Previous month:
May 2013
Next month:
July 2013

June 2013

TAKE ME TO THE PLACE - A Song and a Story For The Day of Reflection

Belfast Troubles

"Take me to the place where your heart hurts most

Lead me through the dark world gates down there

Where all the ghosts of sorrow and pain

And fear and despair stay hiding

And well walk right through to our own way, our own place"

- from Take Me To The Place by Deacon Blue

I had an amazinge experience using this song in a Day Of Reflection event in 2012. June 21st, the longest day is when Northern Ireland takes time to remember those who were injured or lost loved ones in the Troubles. Invited to be part of an event I reached for this amazing pastoral song of Deacon Blue's. It was a b-side, not one of their best known songs and I was using it before their new album Hipsters put the band back in the limelight. After the event a woman asked to speak to me. She has lost her husband near the end of the Troubles. Loyalist paramilitaries walked into the printers that he was working in and shot him. He was not involved in The Troubles. He had been a Deacon Blue fan and on the way to the event we were at she had reached for a Deacon Blue CD as a way of remembering. When I played this she sensed that something beyond us was happening. It was moving for us both and a reminder to me how important music is in our healing.

Donald and Emily Saliers wrote a fascinating book together called A Song To Sing, A Life To Live. The fascination is that both of this father and daughter duo are musicians, Don a Professor of Theology and Music and Emily one half of the popular rock duo The Indigo Girls; thus bringing Saturday night and Sunday morning together in their ponderings. Sharing their own personal loss of Emily’s younger sister they write, “Music was one of our primary ways of coming to terms with her death.” I believe that one of the conduits for God’s comfort is lament. The Bible is full of it - angry, frustrated, painful. Songs of lament do something deep in our souls. They can drill to the nerve centre of our pain, somehow empathise, soothe and mysteriously be companions as we journey through dark days. As a pastor I often give friends or parishioners a song or some music that will be a resource through their grief.

Deacon Blue’s song Take Me To The Place is the most perfect catharsis song I have ever heard. It was written in memory and dedicated to Italian Scottish photographer Oscar Mazaroli. Growing up in Church writer Ricky Ross has a real sensitivity for such scared places and spaces and based the song on the hymn Abide With Me and the traditional melody “eventide.” It’s stunning poignancy in Ricky’s yearning breaking voice, Lorraine Macintosh’s angelic wail, the sorrowful stark piano, the words and the tune, opens doors to the soul and let’s out the raw ripped up heart pain and let’s in some healing holy balm and the daring and courageous almost alien thought of hopefulness and grace.



Healing Through Remembering

June 21st, is when Northern Ireland takes the longest day to remember the victims of our Troubles. Organisations like VAST, WAVE and Healing Through remembering will be using the day to help those who are living themselves with the injuries of The Troubles and also those who lost loved ones. Last year I had the poignant privilege of being part of a Reflection event in St Oliver Plunkett's Church in Lenadoon. It was a difficult event to be a part of, trying to hold in tension the pain that people were remembering and attempting to sensitively bring some hopefulness. It was an important place for me to be and I benefited from spending time with those who live daily with the legacy of our past. This was the prayer I used, leaning on the the wisdom and phrases of VAST's Paul Gallagher, who himself lives with his own injuries, to find an appropriate tone. Please Lord it might be helpful for someone today.

God we have found a place in your arms

Felt the soft tender down of your wings

You love us as we are

You want so badly to comfort us and heal us

You want to help us to move on a step

To sow one seed in a future.

We find it hard God

We feel stuck... frozen in time...

Frustrated with the paralysis of pain

Give us energy, love, forgiveness and hope for one step God

To sow one seed God

Give us your Holy Spirit to find strength

To nudge us forward to make this place a better place,

A safer place and a happier place.

Please God

In the name of the one who was lost... and resurrected... that those of us who lose might believe in resurrection...



Bethany Dawson

With Bethany Dawson reading from her debut novel My Father's House in Fitzroy this Friday night (21.6.13) at 8pm (£5) Stocki asked her a few questions about her writing, her novel and her faith...

STOCKI: When did you first start writing?

BETHANY: Last week I found a folder of stories I wrote in Primary School so my love of the written word goes quite far back. It took me a while to discover the genre to which I was most suited but storytelling is certainly something I have always enjoyed.

ST: When did you then think, "I could write a novel?"

B: In the final year of my BA English undergraduate degree. I had to choose a subject for my dissertation and managed to persuade my lecturer to allow me to focus on my own creative writing rather than a study of English literature. It was the first time it was done and I wrote the opening chapters of a novel. When I graduated, I spent six months in Zimbabwe finishing the manuscript.

ST: You did creative writing at Trinity. What did studying writing do for your craft?

B: It was a hugely formative period in my writing life. The intense group dynamic, lots of time to write and positive feedback made for a huge growth spurt in my craft. It was the first time I allowed myself to believe that I could make it as a writer and I remember it as one of the best years of my life.

However, the manuscript I worked on that year was never published and the high generated by the master course did not last. I decided to persevere and that’s when I wrote My Father’s House.

ST: What sparked the idea for My Father's House?

B: The idea for the book changed so much over the three years I spent writing it. It started as a dual narrative with a female Polish character, went through a brief thriller period, experimented with Northern Irish politics and emerged as a rather slow-paced study of the complexity of a family in crisis.

ST: Once an idea comes what are your methods of developing that idea?

B: I write and write and write until it’s time to edit and then I mercilessly hack through it. I never know the direction the story is going until I try to push it down a certain road and it falls flat. My characters very much determine the pace and storyline. They seem to take on a life of their own and it is impossible for me to coerce them to do anything that isn’t consistent with who they are. 

ST: Were there twists in the story that took you by surprise?

B: The mother surprised me throughout the book. I find her a difficult one to understand and that fascinates me.

ST:. What would you like the reader to come away with?

B: I would like my readers to feel something about the characters. It doesn’t have to be a positive emotion but it would be great if Robbie, John, Margaret, Wendy or Elizabeth’s behaviour resonated with the readers in some way.

ST: You have a Christian faith. How does that influence your writing?

B: Hugely. I would have given up writing a long time ago if I didn’t believe it was something I was created and gifted to do. My personal beliefs also influence what I write about and how my characters develop.

I feel very strongly about writing about what is real. In My Father’s House I didn’t want a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up because I don’t feel that reflects true life. Sometimes people don’t change, can’t accept grace and there isn’t a moment of character redemption. Other times they change a little bit and it’s not great but at least it’s something.

ST: Do you feel you have to consciously sneak your faith into a novel... or do you have to consciously keep a rein on it?

B: I don’t think about it in those terms. I am already shaped by my faith in terms of my perspective and the lense through which I see the people and situations around me. I write from that place.

ST: You are coming to Fitzroy on Friday night. Do you enjoy readings and the promotional side?

B: I’m getting better at it. I feel more comfortable on paper than on stage but I understand the necessity of developing a public presence and I love to meet people and talk about writing.

 ST: And we are looking forward to having you!

TRANSFORMING CULTURE - Moderator's Rally Address - for Presbyterian Herald

Stocki at IF 4
photo: David Cleland

The Truman Show is a favourite movie of mine. Truman is born on the set of a Television Reality show and lives his entire life on that set surrounded by actors, being watched 24/7. He is unaware of the bizarre nature of his life but eventually the cracks appear, he becomes suspicious and sets off to escape. All of this is of course played out live on The Truman Show. During his attempts to escape, the producer is asked shy Truman didn’t catch on earlier and he replies, "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented."It is a powerful line and cuts deep.

Colossians 1 v 15-23 is a very inspirational passage from the inspired word of God. On first reading we might see it as a wonderfully articulate early Church hymn or very crafted Pauline Christology or even an economically explosive Gospel text. Yet, if we delve into the context, as we should, there is a whole lot more. A closer look at the words Paul is using here suggests indeed that if this was a hymn it was a politically subversive one as the phrases he uses comes from Greco Roman culture and not from Jewish tradition.

The Christians in Colossae would have been very familiar with most of these phrases being used in reference Caesar! The Colossians were bombarded every day with images of Caesar on buildings, coins and even kitchen utensils. “Image” is an intentionally big word here. Commentators Walsh and Keesmat suggest that when images dominate us they capture and blunt our imaginations. Paul was afraid that Christians would accept the reality of the world that they were being presented with and writes this poem of subversive and alternative imagination.

As a child I confused Pharaoh and Herod. There was no need. Add Ceasar and they are all the essentially have the same role. The Bible is a call to have Jesus as Lord over the Empire as Lord. The Bible stories of Noah, Abraham, the Exodus, the prophets, Jesus and the Church are all episodes in the same story of God breaking in, grace interrupting and cultures being transformed and redeemed.

In Colossians 1 we see the breadth of Christ’s Lordship and the work of Christ in atoning rescue, reconciliation and redemption. It is wider than just our individual transformation, though, as verse 20 gives us the full reach of God’s redemption; “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” As our outgoing Moderator Roy Patten said at the opening night of the Assembly, “We sell ourselves short and sell others short if we think that Christianity is solely about getting to heaven when we die...” We don’t only sell ourselves short and others short, we sell the life, cross and resurrection of Christ short, we sell the intentions of God short and we sell our human vocation short too. The early chapters of Genesis tell us that we humans are God’s stewards of creation and very quickly we see humans as culture formers. Christ redeems us to be light of the world, salt of the earth and bringers of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

So, do we want to be the men and women in Calvin’s Dream. As Abraham Kuyper described that dream,“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, "Mine!”” Do we want to be the disciples inThy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As our new Moderator Rob Craig said at that first night of the Assembly,“... the transfigured Jesus is in the business of transformation.”

We need to prophetically break in and interrupt by grace the world with which culture is presented. Jesus is Lord. He cries, “It is all mine!” At our denominations gathering at the General Assembly we have either a sad little menagerie of time wasters, a huddle or impotent and bizarre hobbiests or else we are a radical collective of audacious dreamers who are going to subvert the empire, break in, interrupt by grace and be cultural transformers.

Let me finish with God. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah experienced reconciliation with the Holy God he found himself cowering before. After he had his sin atoned for and his guilt taken away he could have sold his salvation short by simply settling for his own place in heaven. Yet, God asks more. “Whom shall I send and who shall go for us?” The interruption of grace in Isaiah life propelled him to response – “Here am I send me!”

HOPE... HERE COMES THE SUN; Pause For Thought 18.6.13

Here Comes The Sun

(my Pause For Thought on Vanessa Feltz Show, BBC Radio 2...)

Just recently I was walking up my street and felt something I’d forgotten about. Afternoon sunshine. Rare in Belfast. Even more intriguing was that the sun felt warm! The thought brought a smile to my face and immediately George Harrison’s voice was in my ear... “Here Comes The Sun... little darling...” It is for me the ultimate song of summer, sunny, warm and vibrant with goodness. Harrison wrote it at a time in rock history when things were far from sunny. Just two years after they sang ‘All You Need Is Love’, the Beatles were breaking up. It was while Harrison was escaping the managerial backbiting that he found himself in Eric Clapton’s garden, and with the sun shining he found some hopefulness. “It’s been a long cold lonely winter but Here comes the sun”.

Winter is about discontent. Summer is where we would rather be. We all need songs of hope. We all need hope. It is easy to be gloomy in these days, looking back with anger at the legacy past generations have left us, around us at the mess we are in and finding it hard to look ahead with any sense of sunny-ness.

Christianity gives me an alternative. I look back to a long heritage and find myself part of a story full of liberation, redemption and purpose. And The Jesus of the story speaks into the here and now with another way to navigate this rocky terrain, looking ahead with the hope of a better future. Not just some ‘pie in the sky when we die’ hope, but a belief in a divine help that brings strength, grace and wisdom to change what is into what could be. As American activist Jim Wallis describes it, hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change. That might be exactly how George Harrison felt when he wrote Here Comes The Sun!


Obama in Belfast

My friend John, who phoned me at 7.10 to tell me he had a ticket if I wanted one, and I spent a couple of hours queuing outside the Waterfront Hall to see Barack Obama marvelling, with a good deal of cynicism at the power one man has to shut down an entire city if not small country. It is frightening and not a little over the top. We are always asking “who do Americans think that they are?” and today was a prime example! However, as we left the Waterfront I couldn’t help thinking that Obama’s speech was the positive side of that over the top power. That one man can make what is merely a collection of random words in a very particularly crafted order and it not only have an effect on those who heard him speak but can go on having an effect down some years to come... well, it might actually be worth closing down the city for!

Make no mistake, this was carefully crafted. As one whose vocation depends on my gift in the spoken word, I am not only listening to what is said, but how it is said. This made me feel very inferior. Of course, as we know from watching Toby and Sam on the West Wing, this was written by a team and Obama doesn’t know as much about Northern Ireland or have a grasp of the literature of Ireland the way his speech suggested. However, it was great oratory as we have come to expect. How he reads the words off those glass reflectors as if he is not tied to those monitors is in itself the gift of statesmanship in the 21st Century. His speech was funny, flattered all the right players, spoke into our past and present and then concentrated inspirationally on our future.

Today was pitched at the youth, two thirds of the hall was filled with school pupils. Listening to the radio commentary on the way home I thought it was a perceptive approach. Our media and politicians are cynicism filled. The media is actually one of the greatest threats to our progress and Fionnuala O’Connor personified that on TV! To by-pass that generation and reach to the heart and soul as well as the minds of our futures was a better place to invest. Hannah Nelson, who I have watched grow up in Fisherwick GB, showed the fertile ground that the Obama’s were sowing in her speech that actually gave her more famous stage sharers a run for their money. Hannah’s “the reality is that we have a past” and “the reality is that we have a future” were phrases Sam and Toby would have been proud of; she was mature and prophetic. It set up the hopefulness that the Obama’s would walk right into and build upon. Mike Nesbitt told the BBC's Stephen Nolan that if teenager Hannah Nelson, "sees her future in media and communications, you're in trouble". My hope is that she would see her future in politics and that Nesbitt would be in trouble!


The Obamas did not say anything innovative or new. Indeed, for me the most encouraging thing was that they were using phrases and ideas that I myself have preached and written. That is where that power to close down a city comes in. When certain people use words they become minted in our psyche; indeed in a nations psyche. When I speak about hope and imagination they might blow around in the wind and maybe land occasionally and at that very lightly, when the President of the United States says similar words, and I’ll admit much better said, then they shoot like an exocet missile into the culture. For me a few phrases exploded in my thinking this morning, “it is harder to wage peace than war,” “peace is not just about politics” and “hope is contagious” being three.

The “hope is contagious” is the one that the media and politicians tried to stamp all over and kill immediately afterwards. To be fair, if the media had caught the hope virus maybe the politicians would have had a chance to be hopeful! Whatever, we need this hope. One of the things that a few of us have been discussing in recent days is to open up a public discourse on hope. There is a need for an imagined future that our politicians, who think very much in the here and now, are almost sucked towards by a ground swell of belief in a better day. We are very good in Northern Ireland at being cynical and pessimistic. “That was a nice summer we had yesterday” is our humour, barbed with a melancholy deep within us. We need hope to be let off the leash. We need to wage war against the media who try every day to play into our melancholy and past, always trying to get a cheap sensational radio or TV show about the hopelessness of our old divisions. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggmann speaks of the preacher’s job as being that which poetically gives a vision that inspires the people of God to go for it. That was the Obamas and Hannah Nelson’s preach this morning. When Barack told us to hold firm when people attack our peace, let us hold firm when they attack our hope. As Hannah said, “The reality is that Northern Ireland has a future.” Let us make her hope contagious!



For me the highlight of the Big IF event in Botanic Gardens was the juxtaposition of the two songs performed by Duke Special, backed by another Northern Irish band General Fiasco. The Fiasco boys gave a harder edged rock grit to the two songs which brought an appropriate concentration on the important business of the moment. First up The Hand Of Man from the brilliant Under The Dark Cloth record. This one is potent with prophetic cultural insight. It is a judgment and the expected consequences when human beings sell their soul for the material. It leaves the carnage of a world raped and pillaged for so called progress and self indulgent ends. In a world where 1 in 8 go hungry while many of us languish in silly decadence, it couldn’t have been a better pick of a song.

Then just when all seems hopeless and lost the mood is transformed. Suddenly from a confession of humanity’s depravity Duke shifts the spiritual gears and kicks into hope of redemption on Salvation Tambourine. This is a remarkable song of pleading with the Divine for a breaking in, a grace interruption – Take me crawling from the corner/Would you lay your love on me/Won't you shake me 'till I'm clean/A salvation tambourine.” The song goes all around the world, on a day when the world was on our horizon, but ends in Jerusalem, a spiritual space of that salvation that Duke Special and General Fiasco urgently pleaded for on behalf of us all and particularly the world’s hungry. I have rarely seen a more thoughtful choice of songs on a day such as today. Perfectly spot on!


Big If
photo: David Cleland

Footballers talk about the rare once in a lifetime privilege of having the World Cup played in their country while they are in their national team. I felt a little bit like that yesterday. The G8 Summit in Northern Ireland in anyone’s lifetime is one thing but that the IF Campaign event was a few hundred yards from my Church and that Tearfund ran their Fringe event in my Church is simply an amazing thing. To be then asked to be part of that event, well I was passed myself! Watching my congregation from the youth to the mature playing their part in the music, on the sound, visuals, welcome team, kitchens, coffee points; all coordinated by my fellow staff member Roberta Clotworthy. I was proud and had that feeling I have so often as minister of Fitzroy – “I have the best job in the world.”

The event itself was powerful and emotional. The Northern Ireland Tearfund team is a top quality act and the event was professionally done. The mingling and meeting with Tearfund reps across the world was informal and lovely. The hour prayer event was outstanding. It was creative, imaginative, inspirational, challenging, prayerful and Biblical. When Tim Magowan told of us of a woman who was eating her hedge and had given us a piece of his as we came in - challenging! The stories from country reps of seeing things change – hopeful! The phone alarms going off at 1.08 to remind us to pray; unifying! When Caroline Orr came to the “rise up” part of Bruce Springsteen’s City Of Ruins; inspirational!

For me, like most of these development projects, the reaching out to feed and bring justice to others reached right back into my soul and left me asking questions of myself. I had the privilege at one stage of tag teaming with a dear friend Alain Emerson. Alain is a leader in the 24/7 Prayer network and they have been doing a series of Big Ask events, praying that God would break into all the important strata of our society. As I got up after him to ponder for just a moment on Esther’s big ask and Nehemiah’s big ask I was suddenly brought back to think not of a big ask we pray to God but God’s big ask of us. I was brought, literally while on my feet speaking, to Jesus big ask, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” I suddenly wondered if the size of the Church’s impact across the world is related to how big we think of that ask from God! Goodness. How difficult a question that is when we live in the richest part of the world in the richest era in history? What does denial and taking up our cross mean? What would it mean to the rest of the world if we did? That will take some unpacking and as we finished by singing John Bell’s Will You Come and Follow Me the challenge, inspiration and passion mingled in my soul to take Jesus ask more seriously.


Big If
photo: David Cleland

At the BIG IF... Fringe event in Fitzroy yesterday I remixed my Bigger Picture Benediction for the occasion. Some of those attending asked me where they could get it... Here it is...

God give us faith to believe the big ask

And the right at times to shout why

God give us joy in living out our human vocations

And the right at times to cry

God give us the strength to carry the hungry and marginalised

And the right at times to wilt

God give us your grace towards your kingdom coming on earth

And the right to confess our guilt

Father, show us a bigger picture

Jesus, play us a longer song

Holy Spirit put us on a road that is more imaginative and sacrificial

Than the one we have been on.




I don’t need to imagine

I don’t need to be bothered

I don’t need to love

Or think about the other

I don’t need to move

I don’t need to touch

I don’t need to struggle

Or to suffer too much


But no one can write my song

No one can live my rhyme

No one can give my gift

No one can do my time

No one can write my song

No one can find these words

No one can sing this tune

That nobody’s ever heard


This can be the strangest hobby

I can be a sad time waster

Or take my cross and follow

As a radical audacious dreamer.