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January 2013



(this is an older blog about a West Wing episode that spoke to me awhile back. I remembered it today and thought it might have something to say about current Peacemaking in N. Ireland just now) 

It is one of the many defining moments of the Jed Bartlett’s Presidency in West Wing, the series that is perhaps God’s reason for giving humans the ability to create moving pictures. Congressmen have been killed in Gaza and the American people (over 80% a poll is telling us) are demanding revengeful justice. It is of course a echo of 9/11 but Bartlett is no Bush and so he is thinking the slower burn of peace that will bring security on a more long term basis than the fast knee jerk feel better response that perhaps makes people feel safer in the short term but leads to larger body counts. He sets out to find peace, the peace he read about when reciting the Beatitudes at the funeral of his great friend and naval expert Fitzwallace, killed in the same attack. When a joint delegation of Washington’s most powerful politicians arrive behind the speaker of the house to demand immediate military response and tell The President he is going to go on television to announce such a strike he turns and says, “I am trying to find a way to make peace... and when I do you can go on television and explain why you were against it.”

It is an argument stopping phrase; like the simplicity of epiphany. What else would we be ambitious to do? The Old Testament was built around the idea of bringing shalom to earth. Shalom is a peacefulness that is also a wholeness, a harmonious relationship between human and human, human and the earth and human and the Creator. It is about a restoration of all that was lost in the Garden of Eden. It is the redemption and salvation Jesus came to bring, tearing the curtain in two and breaking down the dividing walls (Ephesians 2). It is all about peace which is why it is so important to Jesus that he should say that peacemakers are children of God. Yet for so long Northern Irish evangelical Christians actually disdained the peace makers calling them liberal heretics. Perhaps on the day of judgement we will have an opportunity to hear before the living God why they were so much against it.

Speaking of judgement, I hear you ask about justice. Justice is what the heavy politicians and American people wanted in West Wing. It is an important player in the Scriptures too. It has a role to play and perhaps its difficult but vital marriage with mercy will actually be an avenue to the peace that is sought. Yet, when we stop to think about it, there will be no need for justice in the New Jerusalem that John sees in his vision that we get to read about it in Revelation. It is not justice that will fill the air of a new heaven and earth; it will be peace. Peace is God’s goal and if we are about his business then we are going to be called children of God in heaven even if we get called more disparaging vulgar names, by the so called people of God, on earth.

The past fifteen years has seen blessed changes in Northern Ireland. It has been a real period of Divine intervention and grace. And yes, when grace plays its part then we have to experience some very uncomfortable relationships. Another scene in the same episode of West Wing has Ged awake in the night pondering his dilemma. His wife joins him and as he is telling her that it would be so much easier to please the people and authorise a military attack of vengeance and justice, leading to pictures of bombings on CNN and a few charred bodies, his wife responds, “Do you want easy?!” Easy is not a word that takes up much space in a Bible Concordance. Jesus never did easy. Jesus never mentioned easy when he was describing what it would be like to follow him. Peacemaking is never easy. For the people of Jesus’ day it was not easy to live with the forgiveness granted to tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman centurions and a convicted criminal hanging on a cross. Peacemaking comes with some pain. There is a lot of work still to be done to reconcile the people of my country. The next twenty years needs sons and daughters of God to step up and boldly attempt peacemaking. And when the vicious vitriol comes, then paraphrase Jed Bartlett, “I am trying to help God to make peace and when there is peace I want you to stand before God and explain why you were against it!”

Lyric For The Day 21.1.13 from Babel by Mumford & Sons


“'Cause I'll know my weakness, know my voice

And I believe in grace and choice

And I know perhaps my heart is fast,

But I’ll be born without a mask”

-         From Babel by Mumford & Sons

I love these lines from the title track of Mumford & Son’s new record. The Old Testament  title of song and album give away the Biblical
themes that again lie deep in the lyrics of Marcus Mumford. Babel is a rich metaphor for the pilgrimage that Mumford is on. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it speaks of a people attempting to reach God and God throwing them into confusion. Genesis is the Biblical book that lets us know what went wrong with humanity, suggesting that our dissatisfaction with being creatures caused us to reach to the same level as our Creator As we reached to be more than we were we ended up less than we were. The architects of Babel ended up confused and divided. Babel is also another word for Babylon introduced into the language of rock by Bob Marley. As the Rastas saw Babylon as a place where faith was compromised, a place at odds with the holiness of soul. Mumford takes the spirit of Marley’s Caribbean Rasta belief into anglophile Christian.  In the city that nurtured my greed and my pride” Mumford is seeking for the walls to be torn

Whichever idea inspired Mumford, like a Psalmist his songs are littered with an honesty of faith, honest about his own spiritual condition and honest in his questions before God. He never shirks the anomalies or seeming contradictions. He never leaves out the weaknesses of his spiritual pilgrimage  and yet always there at the end of every doubt or failing there is belief. Again here in Babel, we find him acknowledge his weakness but he also knows his contribution and gifts. He believes that grace is an overriding energy in the Universe as God loves unconditionally but he is tossed around in the choices he has to make before the world and under the Divine. In the end rebirth is hoped for and it is a resurrection that unveils everything, no more delusions or lies. His voice will at last be untainted and fulfilled.

ECHOES OF LIGHT (For Gerry Rafferty)


It was a couple of televsion programmes about Gerry Rafferty last year that opened up his work for me all over again, having not taken much interest in him since the early 80s. Looking as I always do for the spiritual I found an amazing amount of it in Rafferty's writing.  Sadly, his life didn't seem to know the hope, redemption and light of his songs. That seeming contradiction inspired me to play with a few words and write this about Rafferty and his work.

The muse of your soul was entrusted

Embosted by God’s gracious favours

The bottom of your bottle was frosted

Encrusted by this world’s tempting flavours


I heard your songs all  shaking

And the beauty in their vulnerability

I saw where your rhymes were slurring

But always filled with possibility


From a spirit that seemed so heavy

Came those melodies on which we floated

Lifting me lighter from this earth

When my heart was tethered and bloated


I pray you were swathed and enveloped

By the bright of the moon in the night

Because in every song you were singing

I heard echoes of light.


Prayer Breakfast Matt

As I sat in Clonard Monastery sharing a fruit salad breakfast (OK, I had a rasher of bacon and a little salmon too) with Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of PSNI, I couldn’t help thinking that Belfast, at this difficult moment, is not a dark sky with a little light shining but a bright sky with a little dark cloud. Matt’s hopefulness, at a time when the media would try to dramatise him as a man showing the strain, was all consuming. He was lavish in his thankfulness to those he works with across the community and his obvious affection for the people of Northern Ireland. When the recent flags crisis took off we, in the 4 Corners Festival, were a little concerned that we would lose Mr. Baggott as our Guest Speaker at our first Prayer Breakfast. Life after all is a bit more hectic than it was when we dreamed up this Festival, and this event, way back in protest free November. It seems that it never crossed the Chief Constable’s mind to not be with us. His presence with us in such a time as this made this morning more poignant, powerful and prophetic. I also remember thinking if this is the only event I ever help organise, in the short life I’m given, then this would be enough.

The 4 Corners Festival is about a few Church leaders trying to be make a little contribution to transforming our city into a better place. That has been done with our first few events in music, art, literature,
theology and this Prayer Breakfast. The aim today was to gather community leaders and Church leaders from the 4 corners of Belfast to be in the same space, meet each other and give the Chief Constable an opportunity to be among us. It was a chance to pray for our city and to be inspired to keep making contributions after the amen was done and everyone went into the rest of their day. That the room was full suggested the importance people had given to the
event. That there were people from across the 4 corners of the city and all denominations and political divides was a particularly encouraging sign at this moment of truth, as Matt Baggott called such times.

The Chief Constable was not there to gain good press as we didn’t do press at all before or after this particular event. It became clear as he spoke that Matt Baggott is a genuine man who is keen to get out of
a flak jacket, be himself and connect with his community. It is not too many sentences into what he says that you realise he is not a policeman doing a job but a man of faith working out his vocation. It brings to his story self critique, confession and an honest desire to make a difference. Today his key point for policing is the key point for Church or community development; relationship. He spoke of how in his early days on the beat he realised that making relationships was the secret to doing a good job. Policing he declared was not first and foremost about policies or programmes but about relationship. His challenge was inspirational.

Inspirational was a word that describes his presence with us. From casual conversation on arrival, to his chatter at the table, to his enthusiastic speech, this man, with so much on his mind, was warm,
infectious and full of good things to say about our country, our city, our political leaders and our everyday ordinary fellow citizens. Yes, there are difficulties and he didn’t ever deny that but his faith in God translates to his faith in God being involved in what he does and what goes on in our world. To share such an energy for this particular group at this particular time was so vital. It was why I saw the bright sky not the dark one. There was a sense as we headed back into our vocations that our job was about loving that dark cloud into blue. If Matt Baggott had been to all our 4 Corners Festival planning meetings he could not have been more accurate about our intentions. Building relationships and pulling down walls has been on our lips for some
time. We long that this morning might have given a little strength to those who are building those relationships and that some more might have begun around these tables at Clonard.


Fitz logo

In the morning (11am) Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will take us into the next section of the Sermon On The Mount. Looking at what Jesus meant when he callede his followers salt and light Jonathan will with the help of Martin Luther King Jr, Cheryl Cole, Van Gogh, Pop Art, Impressionism,  Florence and the machine and John Stott  be looking at what it means to be bring out the God colours in the earth and be part of God's rainbow coalition! Worship of the vibrant and intelligent kind!

In the evening (7pm)  Fitzroy is relocated to a United Service in South Belfast Methodist Church on the Lisburn Road.


Christy Live In Dublin 06

(as tonight the 4 Corners Festival presents The Gospel According To... Christy Moore Soul Surmise repeats a blog on this prophect song which will be performed tonight when a collective of Presbyterians play Christy Moore songs in a Monastery on the Falls Road! Go figure! Come and see! (18.1.13 @ 8pm @ Clonard Monastery... FREE!)

The coming together of Christy Moore and U2; that is an imaginative thought in itself. When they finally got to write together a song about the Irish Troubles came out. Actually not so much its
Troubles but more Ireland’s peace process. U2 released it first on the B-side of Staring At The Sun. In their hands it is like a mature older brother of Sunday Bloody Sunday, quieter, ambient and deeper. Sunday Bloody Sunday was an innocent almost naive first cry from the heart on the Irish problem. North and South is more measured and cerebral; it comes with years of thinking and more awareness of the complexities, the conditioning, the fears and the courageous decisions needed to “turn history around” as a theologian once described “repentance.” U2 played it live only once and that was on an RTE Late Show for the victims of the Omagh bombing 1998.

Christy Moore eventually released the song on his King Puck album and Christy has had the song as a regular feature of his live show ever since. The definitive version, for me, is Moore’s version on his Live At The Point 2006 album. On this version Declan Sinnott’s lonely electric guitar sets the song apart, giving the whole thing a serious ambience and weightiness. On top of Sinnott’s genius, every line has an image that takes you back and forth and forward and back. It’s a song based in the premise of division but then reaching out across that metaphorical river to understand, to confess, to repent and to be changed into a better day.

The song is about the desire for a new day when the two sides will reach for each other, find companionship, empathise with each other and stand side by side without either side having to give up the best parts of their identities. The lines, “I want to meet you where you are/I don't need you to surrender,” are a provocative play on the Protestant slogan No Surrender! The song lends a robustness to this idea, an idea unthinkable twenty years ago and still a brave choice today. Though coming with that weightiness of Sinnott’s electric atmosphere there are chinks of hopeful light, “There was a badness that had its way/But love was not lost/it just got mislaid” or as U2 sang on The Late Show, “love will have its day.” There is a spirit of regret for “hurting your own.” There is a sieving of those things to be kept and those things to leave behind in the new day and Christy’s voice makes you really believe that that day is here and to go out and walk in it. There is something about great songs when they are written and performed about your home that creates an emotional energy and this song does that. It is a clarion call of hope for tomorrow without ignoring or dismissing  the painful past. It is not glib to call it prophetic.

Lyric For The Day After That Nolan Show 17.1.13 from Flat Earth by Iain Archer


“So here I am walking through my ordinary day

Over two hundred thousand miles from anything you do or say

Scratching like a madman to get out of this skin

Understand a little of the distant world that you are in.”

-         From Flat Earth by Iain Archer

This early Iain Archer song came to my mind last night as I suffered through the Nolan Show on BBC Northern Ireland. The main section
of the programme was depressing, if not irresponsible, as politicians and audience tried to out shout each other and cast the blame everywhere but at themselves. It was like going back in time. The fact that the politicians were little different than the audience was disappointing, perhaps tragic but, saddest of all, not surprising. Afterwards, the social networks were alive with inevitability and hopelessness. It was disturbing.

What was lacking was the attitude of Archer’s lyric. In a broken society, so evenly divided like ours, we need leaders on both sides of
that divide who will scratch like madmen to get out of their own default positions and invest in understanding their neighbour’s very different default. Then showing some mutual generosity and grace compromise for the good of all. We no longer need politicians who will fight their corner at all costs. That mentality in our peculiar scenario is going to be too high a cost for us all. For the next fifty years in Northern Ireland to be peaceful and prosperous we need leaders who can imagine a different way to live together.

Archer’s song is called Flat Earth and we need visionaries who can see that that old flat earth is gone and dream up what the future looks like as opposed to the past. The Ancient Text speaks of prophets
who were madmen seeing dreams and visions and poetically reshaping us from what is to what might be. Last night showed us how far away we are. Please God raise up those who will sacrifice votes, face, membership of whatever party to put ALL the people first and then smash our ignorance of the other and arrogance of our own positions to be able to follow when that prophet appears.



unday evenings in Fitzroy have become known for their variety, imagination, artistic quality and robust thinking as well as being relevant, often prophetic, in wrestling with a modern world with truth from an ancient text. Most Saturdays Soul Surmise tip you off about what is on the next day. Here is an advanced list of just some of what we are doing between now and Easter. (all events at 7pm unless stated)

January 27th – Faith On Trial with Stephen McIlwaine

Stephen walks us through the divisions of the Middle East. What do we Northern Irish Christians need to know.

February 3rd – Trimming The Tubby Temple

My battle with the bulge has inspired others and, as so many have
thanked me for talking and writing about it, here is a night to be inspired and to be chastened for not treating your brothers and sisters in ways that help them look after God’s Temple! It is about more than eating less! The spiritual, emotional, social issues and the Christian way to help your brother and sister.

February 10th @ 6.30 – The Wardrobe, The Witch and The Lion; The Gospel According To... Narnia

Dave Thompson and his team follow up their amazing night on Harry Potter with a look at CS Lewis’s Narnia. Geared for all ages from 8 upwards so note the time change!

February 17th The Educational Shakespeare Company present Second Chance for Change.

Two Fitzers Anne Deighan and Ruth Gray have been on the Board of this amazing charity that works through film media with those with criminal records who are being isolated from society. Come watch and think.

February 24th Faith On Trial – The Middle East Peacekeepers

A follow up to Stephen McIlwaine’s introduction in January. Our own Anne Deighan and Michael McRay, an American studying at ISE, will share their experiences of trips to Israel/Palestine on Peacemaking projects. We all want to hear Anne’s experiences and Michael was amazing when he read from his up and coming book at War and peace in November.



Lyric For MLK Day 15.1.13 from Up To The Mountain (MLK Song) by Patty Griffin

Patti Griffin MLK

“Sometimes I feel like

I've never been nothing but tired

And I'll be walking

Till the day I expire

Sometimes I lay down

No more can I do

But then I go on again

Because you ask me to...”

-     From Up To The Mountain (MLK Song) by Patty Griffin

Social media sites have been buzzing with thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr who would have been 84 today. It caused me to seek out this tribute from the fantastic writer and voice that is Patty Griffin. In this her tribute to MLK we find the passion and focus of vision that King had to make his theology live in the Kingdom coming to America as it was in heaven. For all of us in whatever our vocation to make a better day is going to take its toll, push us physically and spiritually. Yet we have hope and even more we have a Jesus calling to us from
further on up the mountain and shouting back, “Follow me.” “Because you ask me to...” Indeed!

THE BOOK OF KELLS AT 4 CORNERS FESTIVAL: An Interview with Carol Rossborough

Book Of kells

(The new, and very much talked about, 4 Corners Festival continues this week with an evening on the Book Of Kells. The idea of the evening and a much longer project on the Book Of Kells is Carol Rossborough's. Soul Surmise speaks to her...)

What sparked your interest in the Book Of Kells?

Northern Ireland may have different tribes, but many of us have the same spiritual DNA. I think when we have a chance as a people to sit down and really look at the spiritual journey of Belfast we have more in common than we think. The Book of Kells really struck me as significant in this idea of unity in Belfast as it is a heritage that belongs to both Catholic and Protestant communities and we should really celebrate that together!

For me this book is symbolic of much more than just unparalleled art and creativity, it also symbolises an era for Ireland that sees a nation riddled with war and poverty transformed into a nation of peace and prosperity. It speaks of a people filled with hope and new vision for the future. It represents new beginnings and transformation, unity in the roots of the faith of our nation and the foundation and importance of creativity in our heritage.

What made you then run an evening such as this one?

I’ve had this notion of unity in Belfast in my heart for a while and it just seemed like the right time to let the wider community engage with the idea through the arts scene in the city. I’m part of a collective of people who meet weekly to enjoy art in the city and encourage each other in our individual projects such as visual art and creative writing. With their encouragement, I decided to run a few
events around the vision of celebrating our shared heritage in the Book of Kells. I think one of the best ways to move forward with vision in a city is allowing the people to wrap the vision in art and creativity.

Who is Dr Angela Griffiths, how did you meet her and what do you think she can bring to the evening? On the night, what can people expect? 

Dr Angela Griffith is a lecturer in Irish Art History at Trinity College Dublin and she is passionate about The Book of Kells and its cultural impact on Ireland. The lecture will examine the origins and processes used in the manuscript's production, its artistry and cultural contexts. The discussion will also include a summary of how the Book of Kells became an icon for 'Celtic' Revivalist designers and artists at the turn of the twentieth century. There will be room for Q&A and some discussion at the end.

What do you hope the evening will achieve?

I hope to see people from all over the city, from different organisations and different walks of life get together for a
celebration of something we share, and just have a good chat about it. To gain a broader perspective on where we’ve come from and
stir up hope that radical transformation is possible for Northern Ireland, it happened through the Book of Kells and it can happen again. I think people need hope.

There will also be a seminar group for reflection and discussion meeting on 24th January in Common Grounds café as an overflow from the lecture. I hope that people can use this as a time to engage
with the idea of Celtic heritage belonging to both communities in Belfast and hown that could change their view of our city.

Why did you connect the event with 4 Corners Festival?

It seems that the committee organizing 4 Corners and myself had very similar visions for bringing Belfast together through the arts, and it made sense to team up with the Festival! I loved the vision of mobilising people out of their comfort zones into a part of the city they have never had any reason to visit, or they just didn’t feel comfortable with the unknown. Part of the delight in this Festival is the warmth of welcome extended to people who make the effort to engage with a different part of the city.

Is it a one off event or will there be more in your Book Of Kells project?

As I said, there will be a seminar group for reflection and discussion meeting on 24th January in Common Grounds café as an overflow from the lecture.

There will also be a series of workshops culminating in
an exhibition of work from artists all over Ireland inspired by the theme, ‘The Book of Kells, the Hope of Something New’ in St Mary’s University College, Falls Road from 7th-24th March. Thursday 7th March will be a late night opening with a celebration of song, spoken word and various artists presenting the rationale behind their work.

Other things we should know about the event –

There will be tea and coffee from 7pm for a 7:30pm start.

Culturlánns Cafe Feirste is open for a bite to eat
beforehand with a great menu!

Car parking is available at St Mary’s University College
opposite Culturlánn at 191 Falls Road until 9:30pm