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May 2013



Next week is the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church In Ireland and as Derry/Londonderry is the UK City of Culture this year we are meeting there. On Wednesday night at the Moderator’s Rally, (8pm) in the Millennium Forum, we will be looking at Christ Transforming Culture and I will be playing a role in that evening. My task will be to set up Biblically a theology of Christ transforming not only individuals but the entire culture. I will be using Paul’s Christological poetry in Colossians 1, which is probably an early Church hymn, to open up this vision of God’s plan for the redemption of all of culture. This was John Calvin’s dream as sieved through the words of Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper, there is not one square inch in the entire universe where Jesus Christ does not declare ‘this is mine.’” When we pray with Jesus “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...” it is this cultural transformation that we are pleading for. As Isaiah prayed, “Rend the heavens and come down.”


So we will unpack this Biblical mandate and then talk to a variety of people about how they are serving Christ in that transforming of the culture they find themselves in. Rev Alistair Bates will talk about his situation in an urban context, Rev Molly Deatherage will talk about rural west of Ireland, Ruth Trimble will share her experiences as a singer/songwriter on a 50 State Tour of America and sing, Philip Orr will do some monologues and tell us about the use of drama to transform the divided culture of Northern Ireland and Tim Magowan will encourage us to be involved in the IF campaign to transform our world as the G8 leaders descend on Fermanagh. All in all an amazing night wrapped up in great worship.


Tickets are free but needed. Phone 02890322284 for details!


Babel Moon

I have been imagining the life of a character called Luke MacAuley for some 12 years. He is a Ballycastle boy and a musician who signs for Apple Records and hangs out on Ballycastle beach with Paul McCartney. He doesn’t last long at the upper echelons of music and that is the story. Why? What happened? This is a song I wrote for this fictitious character’s small recording catalogue. I imagine he wrote it in late 1969 when the Moon Landing was inspiring songs like Space Oddity and Rocket Man. Luke is bringing Biblical thoughts and images to the event. Imagine Graham Nash without Crosby and Stills and who knows that might be the sound! The “reaching for more/And ending up less” is from a phrase I heard Darrell Johnston, former preaching guru at Regent College, Vancouver use about the story of the Fall in the early chapters of Genesis... maybe more from Luke as his story develops...


It lights up the night

And pulls at the tides

Now just a dumping ground

For our new pleasure rides

It reflects the world so pretty

Will we now deface it

It hangs in such humility

Will we now disgrace it


Is this our Babel Moon

Our Eden idea of progress

Reaching to be more

And ending up less


They say a leap for mankind

In this tiny step of a man

But where is the leaping to

And who will rule the land

We can build the greatest things

And tear our souls apart

Becoming slaves to flags

And not the servant heart.


Is this our Babel Moon

Our Eden idea of progress

Reaching to be more

And ending up less

Reaching to be more

And ending up less


Fogerty Wrote

I love it when this happens. I picked up a Creedence Clearwater Revival CD in a charity shop last week. That  got me listening and appreciating John Fogerty and then he goes and releases a new album within a week! When I say a new album, it very much is. Most of the songs, however, are old classics. The versions on this record though are new and give a real freshness to the loved and familiar. To give them a new hue Fogerty has assembled a wide range of voices and players. Each collaboration takes the Fogerty catalogue in all kinds of cool sonic directions. My recent fandom of Fogerty is obsessive but if I had one gripe it is the lack of shifts and shimmies in his guitar riffing sound. That guitar strut gets added steel tipped boots when Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters back Fogerty on the lead off track Fortunate Son. Most of the rest however reveal new nuances and angles. My Morning Jacket give an ethereal monasticism meets rock spirituality on Long As I Can See The Light and The Dawes mellow Fogerty out altogether on Someday Never Comes. Proud Mary gets a Gospel meets blue grass and elsewhere there are all kinds of fine performances from Kid Rock to Bob Seger to Brad Paisley to Miranda Lambert. I enjoyed the eclectic approach and found the whole thing very satisfying.

Of course Soul Surmise is a blog that looks deeper, seeking music that touches the soul not just the ears. This collection of Fogerty hits and more has more than enough talking points. One of the new songs Mystic Highway has a spiritual journey theme, a bit of a relation to Rumi’s often quoted phrase, “whoever it was That brought me here, will have to lead me home.” It’s not nailed down with any creed but it’s a  good journey song and a lovely companion to Long As I Can See The Light. The other new tune Train Of Fools is a younger brother of Fortunate Son with its near preacher’s warning about those people and things that delude and deceive.

For me the title tracks is a real wake up for my soul; “Wrote a song for ev'ryone/Wrote a song for truth/Wrote a song for ev'ryone/And I couldn't even talk to you.” That idea of reaching wide with a bigger truth is not only the vocational desire of the songwriter but the preacher too. I do a lot of writing and communicating in various genres. Maybe like the song I can so all those things but can I talk to my family and friends! Fogerty is a writer very much in the mould of Springsteen who would come after him and sometimes stand on his shoulders; he rights fun tunes but also prophetic tunes (like Who’ll Stop The Rain and Fortunate Son here) and social observation songs and songs of introspection too. What I like most about this collaborative project is that it gives a sonic representation of Fogerty’s width, breadth and depth. May a new generation discover this dude!


Communion Cup
I have always been drawn to the power of the Eucharist/Communion/Lord's Table. My artistic side always sees the power of its acted out revolutionary imagining. God was being particular when he set up a dramatic reenactment for us all to partake in regularly.

This poem was written for a Chaplaincy Communion as I pondered the transformative power of the bread and wine in lives that are then empowered to be transforming agents of the Kingdom into the society that we rise form the Table to return to. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4: 8-9 "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."

The poem was very influenced by Frederick Buechner's words on "wine" in his book of defintions, Wishful Thinking. In that he compares unfermented grape juice, "bland... a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus" with wine, "dangerous and drunkmaking... makes the timid brave... breaks the ice... as symbols go it is a rather splendid one! It reminded me of the unBiblical nature of the diluted juice we often use as asymbol for Jesus powerful blood... Jesus got his symbols absolutely right!

We’ve got to pour out the cup

Permit the precious drops to drip

Taste the grace full bodied fortitude

With every extravagant sip

We’ve got to pour out the cup

Let the potent mixture steep

The selfish stains of soily souls

And let the wild abandon of love seep

We’ve got to pour out the cup

Let the fresh flow fluid flood

Through the tar of every street

Transfuse the city with holy blood

We’ve got to pour out the cup

Be transformed by intoxication

Let it marinate the market place

To redeem the incarcerated heart of the nation.

SONG FOR A HEALTHY SOUL - Fortunate Son; John Fogerty and Foo Fighters

Fogerty and Grohl

Here’s a song I missed by a guy I nearly missed. Yes, I’ve had my Creedence Clearwater Revival Greatest Hits compilations down the years and I even bought Fogerty’s mid 80s comeback record Centrefield but I have never given this man the respect he deserves. Until now... and just in time. I downloaded the Long Road Home – In Concert recently and have been marvelling at it and then hear that Fogerty has teamed up with some stellar musicians to reinvent his old hits. Wrote a Song For Everyone might well get a review here soon but Fortunate Son gets a rockin’ work out with Foo Fighters and that is a blend that is perfect. U2 of course have covered it too in their chunked up Achtung Baby phase, though maybe not one of their greatest moments.

Fortunate Son is a song of power in both sound and content. This is the blue collar protest that pre-dated Bruce Springsteen and when you realise that The Boss loves his Fogerty cover versions you strengthen that particular link. Fogerty is stressing that he is not the “fortunate son” that those born of senators, millionaires and the military elite. The first verse about the political leaders sending the unfortunate sons to war and the second verse about the millionaires making sure they are alright while the poor take the hit are as relevant today as they were in 1969. As Steve Turner once poeticised “History repeats itself/It has to/No one listens.”

All in all that means that Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters will bring a rage in the darkness as this song gets a new listening from a new generation that need a voice in their world of Fortunate Sons!

A SHARED FUTURE - Radio Ulster Thought For The Day 27.5.13


It was about a year and a half ago. I had met my friend Fr Martin Magill a few times in coffee shops on Botanic. I have a few nice cafes I use as offices close to Fitzroy. Anyway, with Martin having come down my way a few times, I thought it was time I went to him. Fr Martin is the parish priest in Lenadoon so one afternoon I headed up Kennedy Way. I am familiar with my way to ASDA but when I turned left at that round about I had an absolute revelation.

It was like going through CS Lewis’s Narnia wardrobe. I was suddenly driving in a world I had never seen before. There were Sports Stadiums... schools... parks... churches... banks... shops... even Fusco’s Ice Cream... How could I have lived in this City for decades and never been here? Isn’t that how it is? We stay in our Corners and mostly in our Tribes.

I have thought about that experience a lot in these last days as we have critiqued and discussed the Shared Future Document coming from our First and Deputy First Ministers. Any hope of a shared future will mean sharing our cities and towns, crossing our tragically erected boundaries and engaging with one another.

Jesus inspires to do such things. He headed through Samaria when his people traditionally took a route that avoided the political and religious enemy. Not only that Jesus engaged with a Samaritan woman, unthinkable and risky behaviour in his day. Not as risky or brave however as that other time when he told the crowd around him that a Roman Centurion whose servant he had just healed had more faith than he had seen in all of Israel!” What! A Roman putting his people on crosses had more faith than his people who thought they had THE faith! Crossing boundaries, bringing down walls, engaging with those beyond his tribe and doing it with courage and grace.

Any hope of a shared future in Northern Ireland will need First and Deputy ministers... political, community and church leaders... and us the ordinary people to follow Jesus... to leave our corners...and to head into strange even dangerous places... and engage with the other even when that will be misunderstood... and not only discover... but share our cities, town and country...a shared future indeed! Let’s do it!


Table Mtn

(Stocki's study of poverty... there are two sides... the sides the prophets raged against... and the lessons Jesus said we would glean from the poor... two poems)


On afternoon in 2004 I took my good friend Gordon Ashbridge onto a cemetery on the KTC township on the Cape Flats. Gordon is a photographer and he was into cemeteries just then, so one afternoon he and I travelled alone and walked around. We met Barrington who was digging graves for children and babies. They stretched out for some distance and that was only for that week. We read some of the little makeshift “headstones” that were actually little pieces of wood, some lollipop sticks with names in felt tip pen. I wrote this, cataloguing the afternoon and asking is this what Jesus meant when he said the poor were blessed? Surely this is that poverty the prophets raged against!

There’s a mist across Table Mountain
Like a veil to hide the hell
Beast’s ransack of such beauty
It’s a hard truth to sell
The wind howls too worldly wise
Trying to blow the knowledge away
The rain drives like freezing tears
Making desolation more desolate today
When he said “Blessed are the poor”
I’m sure this isn’t what Jesus meant
Fama’s baby being laid to sleep
In the sandy grave of a poor man’s rent.

Black crows crowd on death barbed wire
Like the devil is signing his art
Evil despises his neighbour’s child
As he pampers his own wealthy heart
And I think if I stared any longer
The sacred sadness would blind my eyes
Or maybe I’d see the cry of God
Condemning my own deluded lies
When he said “Blessed are the poor”
I’m sure this isn’t what Jesus meant
Fama’s baby being laid to sleep
In the sandy grave of a poor man’s rent.


There were other times on the townships when I could understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the poor...” This was my meditation on that idea.

Blessed are the poor
For they have to love their neighbours
The wages of selfishness is death
Survival depends on collective labour
Blessed are the poor
For they cannot afford a fence
Their homes are nothing like a bank vault
To store up their independence

And every day I get to meet Jesus
And be Jesus to everyone I meet
Here God doesn’t live an empty Church
Here God lives on the crowded street.

Blessed are the poor
For they aren’t torn between distractions
No internet or iPod or DVD
Just the simply joy of their children’s affections
Blessed are the poor
Without products to help save their face
Who you see is what you see
With a higher value of mercy and grace.

And every day I get to meet Jesus
And be Jesus to everyone I meet
Here God doesn’t live an empty Church
Here God lives on the crowded street.

And the poor smile as if they're happy
For the westerner that’s kind of funny
I don’t think it's poverty that makes them laugh
I think it's their lack of money.



Today’s run and indeed the past month has been as much about the mental as the physical. Over the course of my running, from half a mile in November to now 10 miles on a Saturday and a few shorter runs during the week, I have been pleased and very surprised at my progress. Again today I took two minutes off my time from last week. Almost every run is a PB and they are at times quite significant improvements. Now that I am running longer the mind comes into play. In my youth this was never so much the case. As a twenty four year old I would just go out and run 13 miles in around 7 minute mile averages. I had a 7 minute rhythm and just ran. Today, not having done much in fifteen to twenty years I have had to work my way to fitness. That natural rhythm has not been easy to find. The mental has become more important. The challenge of the mental is added to by my competitive spirit. As I have blogged before, I grew up playing competitive football and golf. I never really did sport just to do sport. So, bring that to my running and the up side has been that that competitive spirit has driven me to run farther and faster every time I go out. The downside is that I cannot go out to just exercise and have a loosener. I am always looking down at the pace and the mile average. Pacing yourself is therefore tricky as the competitive side wants to go faster when the wise head is holding back!

The pacing is now a vital contributer to my ongoing success; so, the mental side is now vital. Running 2 miles, you just run. When you decide to do 10 miles then you can’t just run. Taking off too fast could mean that you run out of gas after a couple of miles and there are still 8 miles left! Indeed, I have been inspired by a friend who ran the second half of his marathon faster than the first half. That is good pacing and mentally strong! This week I was delighted with my four mile run when I increased the pace every mile. The 10 miler proves a real mental test. My other problem is that where I live I cannot find a route that doesn’t include a steep hill on the way back home. On my current 10 miler that hill hits after 8 miles. Ouch! So in many ways my mind is checking my mile times always trying to have enough left in the tank to hit that Shaw’s Bridge hill! Today, I set off at an average pace that was faster than last week’s by 20 seconds per mile. I was then worried it was too quick. The mind is being tested! I went through the first 5 today in a pretty steady 9.20 pace. My rhythm carried me until the sixth mile when I realised that I had to add a little momentum. Again at 8 miles I became aware that I had slowed and that began to play on my mind for that hill. It needn’t have. I took that difficult 9th mile in 30 seconds faster than last week and was able to take a few more seconds off my 10th mile. My delight in the 2 minutes that I took off last week’s time was the mental victory. The downside is that I wasn’t so sure that I have enough left to do another 3 miles and make a half marathon. Today I was thinking a 10k to get started in June and leave the half marathon until autumn. I suppose that my competitiveness is winning again there. I don’t want to just finish 13 miles; I want a decent time! My mind was also asking if I could knock another 40 seconds off that mile average by next May to do the marathon in under 4 hours. That I have now taken 29 seconds off that average in three weeks encourages me to believe that there is more improvement left in this old guy yet!


Fitz logo

(11am) Florence and the Machine say 'its always darkest before the dawn' the psalmist tells us 'joy comes in the morning' les miz tells us to hang on for 'one day more' and Glen Hansard tells us 'you've been kneeling in the dark for far to long, I'm begging you please get of the floor' so we will be looking at what happens when we find ourselves in those middle of the night moments in life, unsure which route to take but in which we know we need to make a decision. As we continue our series of a look at the bibles colourful characters Jonathan Abernethy Barkley will take us on a journey through the book of Ruth. Steve will challenge us about saving the art of God. Wrapped up in vibrant worship blending tradional and contemporary.

In the evening (7pm) it is the monthly Faith On Trial. On a week when The Shared Future document coming out of Stormont was the talk of the country, the Catholic and Protestant Chaplains at Lagan College share a Shared Past, Shared Present and what we might learn from that about all our Shared Futures!   



This week, my favourite Non-Profit celebrated a milestone. These Numbers Have Faces, with my good friend Justin Zoradi as CEO put the fiftieth student that they are funding through college onto Justin’s office wall. Justin’s story is an inspiration. Just one guy in his early twenties who saw something that needed fixed and did something about it. Here is a little of the story.

It seemed appropriate that it was June 16th, South African Youth Day 2006 and the thirtieth anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, when my friend Eric Kombela and I introduced my then Californian intern Justin Zoradi to Eric’s soccer star Anda Sozawe. We were in the Mugg & Bean in Cape Town’s Victorian and Alfred Waterfront and as Justin and Anda introduced themselves to each other none of us could tell it would change both of their lives.

Four years earlier I had met Eric, or Ace as he is known, through his minister at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu, Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile. As in many other parts of the world, Spiwo had been struggling to get young men to Church and into a place where they could be taught Biblical values, what a family should look like and health issues that could avoid them contracting AIDS that was ripping the community apart. So, as Ace a former professional soccer player was around the Church, they started a soccer team connected to the Church with rewards for attending Church for the players. It was a no brainer that I took my students to play Ace’s boys in 2002 and a relationship developed. Justin was heading up one of our 2006 teams that had an emphasis on playing against and building relationships with the JL Zwane soccer team.

The next few weeks would see Justin and Anda connect more and more. By the time we left South Africa, six weeks later, Justin would have come up with an idea to sponsor guys like Anda. When he left us to return to America and take up a Masters Degree in Peace Studies in Portland Oregon, Justin set up These Numbers Have Faces (TNHF), a charity that would aim to fund South Africa’s youth through College which gives them the chance to change their lives with a drip down positive effect on their families and communities.

Anda indeed became the first student to benefit from the very modern, media clever approach that TNHF took. TNHF have used the internet, quality videos and taken a rock band approach to spreading the word that includes badges, posters, stickers and t-shirts. It has caught on in Portland and Belfast, N. Ireland with very ordinary twenty-somethings seeing the impact they can make quickly and effectively without a big corporate charity behind them. 

Anda became the first person in his family to attend and graduate from College. He starred on and off the field at Northlink College. TNHF are a small grassroots charity who are attempting a “love your neighbour” alternative way to live. They connect not with statistics but with faces and always develop friendships with those they raise money for. This brings respect, dignity as well as education to township youth. Not content with this TNHF have a Community Impact Model where the students they invest in become investors themselves in terms of community service, student mentoring and financial reinvestment.

TNHF is a passionate movement attempting to make its impression on poverty reduction, education equality and ultimately the empowerment of South African youth. This week Justin put the fiftieth photograph on his office wall. When he started there was only Anda’s face to inspire him. Now the wall is covered in fifty faces, no longer just numbers, but educated young people, contributing back into their communities!Justin’s story should be an inspiration to us all!