Previous month:
July 2013
Next month:
September 2013

August 2013

BOB DYLAN; ANOTHER SELF PORTRAIT (1969-71) Bootleg Series, Volume 10

Another Self Portrait

Bob Dylan has always been a quirk. I’m not the first to declare that. When the first three volumes of the Bootleg Series, that has now reached Volume 10, were released in 1991 (22 years ago – how can that be!) we realised how many great songs were left off albums for what seemed like inferior alternatives. How could Blind Willie McTell be left off any of his albums, never mind Infidels. Indeed, the Outfidels unofficial bootleg of other tracks recorded at that time, that some of us have had the pleasure of finding, would be a great Bootlegs Volume 11! The question has been for some time, was it a perversity within Dylan or was it very bad perspective and decision making?

Every time there is news of another Bootleg Volume fans have their dream. As I say I’d love the Infidels out takes. I’d also love an official release of The Blood On The Tracks out takes. Then there are the Christian years' live gigs! I might have to wait for that one. Anyway, when the word finally got out that Volume 10 was from the Self Portrait era excitement drained. What?!?! For those who might not be aware the original release in 1970 Self Portrait is often seen as the nadir of a great career. I can’t tell you how many times over thirty years I have dragged Self Portrait out hoping to at last fall in love with it only to quickly put it back in the sleeve and onto the shelf. Surely the out-takes of that record could not be at all worth hearing!

Well, once again, perversity or just terrible discernment? This is great stuff! The demo versions without getting cluttered with awful instrumentation have a whole different feel. Copper Kettle, Days of ’49 and Belle Isle are no longer the performances of a man trying to bring a career and myth off the rails but a man as passionate and focused as he was before and after he plugged in his electric guitar. The out-takes, similarly stripped, are wonderful too – the lovely familiar harmonica of Thirsty Boots, Only A Hobo and Pretty Saro personal favourites so far. Even more there are the alternative takes from New Morning, Nashville Skyline and Greatest Hits 2 -  the fiddle led beauty of If Not For You, the piano led yearning of When I Paint My Masterpiece, the gentle country shuffle of Time Passes Slowly #1. And even more is the cleaned up live set with The Band from The Isle Of Wight. Yes a few dodgy versions maybe but some lovely touches too. It captures both Dylan and the Band at a unique moment in their histories; Dylan’s only full set between 1966 and 1974 for goodness sake!

So, against the run of play, Another Self Portrait is an overwhelming success. It is the work of a man who has ejected the madness of sixties' city life for rural family calm in Woodstock but, from the revelation of this release, not rejected his artistic muse.


Fitz logo

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will be setting us off on a new series in The Gospel According To... John. I am excited about the series and about tomorrow's introduction. The past week and the two months before it will all be hurled into a mix that will be asking who John was writing for and what he was trying to tell them. With American activist Jim Wallis in with us in Fitzroy, Skainos and 174 this week we have been inspired to the trasnforming power of the Gospel. That he spoke in Fitzroy on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Had A Dream speech, that did transform a nation, was poignant and powerful! Add that to my reading of NT Wright's insightful book How God Became King and have even a glance into John and you can see some explosive theology to energise a Church attempting to bring the Good News of the way of The Cross to Belfast city. 

In the evening (7pm) it is our annual Hear Back service. This is one of the most vibrant nights of our year when our young people return from their summer missions and tell us what they have done and seen and how that has chnaged their lives. This year we are doing it together with our neighbours at City Church, with the joint outreach to the Holy Land that we did together taking a leading role.


MLK Dream

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try” sang my old hero John Lennon when he was telling us all to dream the world into something better. And I do find it easy John. Look. No heaven. There, I just did! Easy! But it doesn’t exactly transform anything or anybody.

Martin Luther King Jr on the other hand had a more difficult dream. With encouragement from the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sitting behind him, he preached one of the most famous speeches in history, declaring, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

For me the dreaming of both these men is vital for change. Without dreams and imagination there can be no change. It is why I see art as so crucial. If we are going to dream dreams we need the muscle of our imagination to be fit to dream. There is though a difference in the dreams of Lennon and King. One has substance and the other doesn’t. John Lennon imagining there is no heaven leaves us with nothing concrete to dream about and so nothing to hang our transformation upon. Martin Luther King’s dream has the substance of Biblical hopefulness. It was a dream of heaven, not as a pie in the sky for the bye and bye but as a hopeful future that gives an alternative imagining to the here and now. It was how the African slaves of the plantations of the Deep South found the strength to hope and courage for change and it was on that rich seam that King built his peaceful Civil Rights movement.

Social and indeed personal transformation needs imagination. Before anything will happen we need to dream. With the right substance to our dreams I might just join John Lennon’s chorus, “You may say I’m a dreamer/but I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”


King's Dream

Yesterday was the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington; August 28th 1963. Last night we had a coincidental treat. We had American author, theologian and political activist Jim Wallis speaking in Fitzroy. It was hearing that speech as a fourteen year old boy, living in a very white world, that changed Jim’s life. Were it not for that speech Jim might not have been with us last night inspiring us to put Jesus on the streets, living the transforming command of Scripture to love our neighbour and giving us the spiritual stamina to decide for hope when all seems hopeless. Jim used the speech very poignantly. He said that it was the anniversary of King’s “I have a complaint” speech! Of course it wasn’t but the difference between a “compliant” and a “dream” is profound. There are many things we can complain about and protest against. It is easy to complain but it is in dreaming that people bring about social change. Dreaming is about imagining how change looks. The Bible had told us this a long, long time ago; “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

When last night’s meeting was thrown open to the floor John Brewer, Professor of Post Conflict Studies at Queen’s University, made us aware that at the very same time as we were listening to Jim there was a meeting at Stormont to celebrate the I Have A Dream speech. John shared how that seemed a little incongruous to the lack of imagination that we have heard publicly from our politicians over this past summer which has left us more polarized than we have been in some time. John then went on to say how refreshing it was to be listening to the hopefulness of Jim’s talk. In my conversations with John, usually when we meet each other dog walking in Lagan Meadows, he has always been pushing the need for a public discourse on hope. I cannot count the number of times where I have been in political, Church and community situations where I have acknowledged how right he is. I understood his comparison and contrasting of these two meetings in the same city on the same anniversary night.

This morning I was with Jim Wallis for a Breakfast meeting with church, community and political leaders, hosted by Glenn Jordan at Skainos in East Belfast, and got chatting to Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle who had been one of the instigators of the Stormont meeting. Chris gave me an alternative perspective. He felt strongly that it was a very poignant time to gather our political leaders to ponder on King’s speech. He shared some of, what he felt were, the similarities between King’s gathering in Washington and our own current impasse. So, I left the breakfast thinking that, though it might have been almost a hypocrisy for our leaders to be remembering such a historical moment of social progress and reconciliation at a time when they were failing to lead us in that way, that maybe a meditation on that speech at this time could only be useful; almost hopeful!

In the end Jim Wallis’s message to us, over the three different events he spoke at here in Belfast, was that we the ordinary people need to give a space and the mandate to our politicians for change. President Kennedy was not for King’s Washington gathering happening. The political leaders in Washington felt that it would need some time to bring the country to the place that King was dreaming of. However, what the Washington gathering of 250,000 people did was to give the politicians the encouragement to move faster. Jim was inspiring those of us meeting in Fitzroy to be a ground swell of change that would give the necessary collateral to those who met at Stormont to make our future together better! Where does that begin. Well, moving from “I have a complaint” to “I have a dream” is where it starts.

ALL THINGS ALL AT ONCE; Tired Pony and Northern Ireland's Deep Divide

Lightbody in Irish shirt

“It’s not one thing or the other

It’s all things all at once...”

-          From All Things All At Once by Tired Pony

The most Topanga Canyon sounding song off the new Tired Pony record recorded there, this Gary Lightbody love song throws up this couplet that jumped out at me as a great line of hopefulness for his native Northern Ireland, seemingly more polarized that it has been for some time. Last night, on UTV Live Tonight, Paul Clark was joined by representatives of the 4 main political parties in Northern Ireland and Jeffrey Donaldson from the DUP was honest enough to say that there are some issues on which agreement will be very difficult to find; the division is wide!

Into such a scenario Tired Pony’s words offer hopeful alternative in the midst of the seeming impossible. Northern Ireland will never find the shalom, that deep down everyone would love, until we come to conjure in our wildest imaginations a society where it is not the victory of our way over their way or the defeat of their way over our way but “all things all at once.”

I personally love the “all things all at once” of living on the island of Ireland in the middle of the Venn diagram between Ireland and the UK. I love being able to cheer for Andy Murray as a fellow Brit but last weekend I was chuffed to be in Bray and hoped that Katie Taylor my Irish heroine might walk past. Gary Lightbody sang, with his other band Snow Patrol, on their song Lifening, “Ireland in the World Cup/Either North or South,” and so, in soccer terms too, he wants “all things all at once.”

It becomes much more difficult when we start thinking of the symbols, icons, heroes and history of the “one thing or the other”. We find in Northern Ireland that a flag is not so much about celebrating an identity as much as having a go at the other community. The flying of flags over communities is so indelibly engraved in the psyche that the other’s flag can raise deep seated hatred. I know of a friend from the north who married a man from the south and moved to Dublin. She had to have prayer concerning her difficulty in dealing with the Irish flag! It gets even more difficult when a hero on one side killed the ancestors or even contemporary family members of the other. I remember, while I was living in Dublin, sitting in Kilmainham Gaol watching video footage of a history that seemed so alien to what I had grown up with; heroes celebrated that my default position saw as terrorists and the enemy! My mind, heart and soul were fried. It took some time and soul searching to realign!

So, I am not being naive in how this works out but it needs to work and we need to move on. It needs to work out in how we tolerate and, dare I dream to suggest appreciate, each other’s parades. The reality is that neither side is going away. Both sides are going to continue to live in this small, and beautiful, piece of land. We need that prayer that my friend had prayed that we learn, maybe against our natural intuition, to live in a country where “it’s all things all at once.”

MEDITATION ON SHOPPING (Imagine a Saw Doctors tune)

Kildare Shopping Village

Call it Bank Helliday Monday

At a Shopping Village in Kildare

All Saints and True Religion

It would make a holy man swear

There’s a jacket down to 289

It sure would make me natty

With my special 10% discount card

That’s... 35 cents off my Latte.


It’s just labels that they’re selling

Makes me feel that we’ve been bought

They would need to make us feel real good

Cos they’re costing an awful lot

These labels that they’re selling

Make me feel that we’ve been bought.


Donna Karan, that's from New York

My daughter’s in Juicy Couture

The prices of the eau de toilette

Well something smells for sure

Jack Wills, well that is English

My wife calls him John Willis

Him I know from East Belfast

And I wish we were drinking Guinness


It’s just labels that they’re selling

Makes me feel that we’ve been bought

They would need to make us feel real good

Cos they’re costing an awful lot

These labels that they’re selling

Make me feel that we’ve been bought.


Wallis On God's Side

Jim Wallis has been a major contributor to social transformation returning to the evangelical Christian agenda. John Stott described the lack of a serious social dimension to mission as the great heresy in evangelicalism in the 20th Century. In 2006 Wallis spoke to my students at Queens University. He told them that he grew up in an evangelical Church and while in his teens asked what they were doing about the poor black neighbourhood down the street. He was told that that was not what the Church was about. Disillusioned he left and became an activist in the student protest against the Vietnam War. Eventually though he realised that social transformation needed God and that transcendent dimension. He set up a radical justice community called Sojourners in 1973 from which came a magazine still powerfully influential today. His second book The Call To Conversion in 1981 opened up a whole generation to the Biblical agenda that was unbelievably missed since Walter Rauschenbusch’s The Social Gospel at the start of the century (that’s a whole another Surmise for another time) Jim Wallis is now a very influential activist in American politics but his mingling of Biblical and political commentary has prophetic implications across the world.

We are delighted to have Jim Wallis in Northern Ireland on August 28th. He will be speaking in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church (77 University Street, Belfast) at 7.30pm and it is free. Fitzroy is one stop on Jim’s book tour to promote On God’s Side; What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving The Common Good. It is a book that includes endorsements from Miroslav Wolf, Scot McKnight, Shane Claiborne, Ann Lamotte, Richard Rohr, Lynne Hybels and Bono. The top African American academic, activist and theologian Cornel West writes, “Jim Wallis is this country’s (USA –ed) major prophetic evangelical Christian voice. He has a sense of urgency and hope seldom seen in our cynical time.”

I am particularly indebted to Wallis for being a real influence in my own discipleship and the widening of my missional vision and Biblical understanding. His book The Soul Of Politics articulated a lot of what I was thinking in the mid-90s. I cannot count how many times I have quoted his phrase, written in the context of South Africa’s miracle of transformation, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.”

I personally believe that there has never been a more crucial time for Jim Wallis to be in Northern Ireland and never been one of his books as timely as On God’s Side. Jim is speaking into the split in American politics between Republican and Democrat that came to quite a vicious antagonism at last year’s Presidential election. As I read the first chapter in the midst of Belfast’s street tension over the Ardoyne parades in mid July I couldn’t help seeing obvious parallels. We need our politicians to reach beyond their partisan sound bites for votes and start to act for the common good. As I have often said, “Don’t vote for the politician that will do best for you, vote for the politician that will do best for everyone.”

A few quotes from Jim’s opening chapter, A Gospel For The Common Good: -

“The common good is about so much more than partisan politics. It grows out of our personal and family lives, our vocational callings, the mission and witness of our congregations, the moral power of social movements, and the independent integrity of prophetic religious leadership in our public life as we fight not just for “our” rights but for the rights of all people.”

“Being converted... in this way means focusing on instead of ignoring our neighbour, letting the poor move us instead of serving us, and learning how to understand and even love our enemies instead of just hating and seeking to defeat them. On God’s side we learn how to compassion takes precedence over control, forgiveness over fighting, and reconciliation over retaliation. And that requires a pretty radical transformation of how we think, act and relate to others and to God. Again, it’s called conversion – to God’s side.”

“Imagine the power of divisive religion converted into a spiritual force for the common good in our time.”

You can see why I am excited about the potential of Jim’s visit. I myself expect to be challenged, encouraged and inspired to convert religion into a power for the common good in Northern Ireland.

JASON ISBELL - Southeastern

Jason Isbell

“And the sand that they call cocaine cost you twice as much as gold

You’d be better off to drink your coffee black

But I swear, the land it listened to the stories that we told

God bless the busted boat that brings us back”

That busted boat that brings us back is like the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood and gave them a new start. This is an album that testifies to redemption. I was unaware of Jason Isbell, and not too knowledgeable about the band he almost drank himself to death while a member The Drive-By Truckers, but the recommendations I got were from people I trusted and once a again they were not wrong. A sign of my age is that very few new albums really grab my attention and certainly few have grabbed my attention like Southeastern. Not out in the UK until my birthday week in October this is a record worth waiting for or grabbing on import!

Readers of my music reviews might be well aware of my love for Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac. I think it is the best thing Ryan Adams ever did, maybe one of the best things anyone ever did, and though Adams has reached for its heights occasionally I am always hoping. Halfway through Southeastern’s second track, Stockholm, I started thinking, “this is as good as… as good as… what is it this reminds of the greatness of… Strangers Almanac!” There’s certainly an Americana hue to the entire thing and then at times he cranks it up as on Super 8.

It seems that Isbell found redemption in the arms of songwriter and fiddler Amanda Shires. In the aforementioned Stockholm he sings:

“I’ve heard love songs make a Georgia man cry

On the shoulder of somebody’s Saturday night

Read the good book studied it, too

But nothing prepared me for living with you”

I am not sure how much that good book is responsible for his recovery but later it is clear that Shires is a saviour of sorts:

“Once a wise man to the ways of the world

Now I’ve traded those lessons for faith in a girl.”

There’s a great deal of soul searching and life changing going on here. The Songs She Sang in The Shower: -

“In a room by myself

Looks like I’m here with the guy that I judge worse than anyone else

So I pace, and I pray, and I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day.”

And on Different Days: -

“Time went by and I left and I left again

Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin

My daddy told me, I believe he told me true that:

“The right thing’s always the hardest thing to do”

Ten years ago I might have stuck around for another night,

and used her in a thousand different ways,

but those were different days

Those were different days”

The lyrics are raw, honest and intelligent; the songwriting superb. Elephant takes that raw honesty into little travelled territory as it deals with a friend losing the battle with cancer:

“I’ve buried her a thousand times, given up my place in line

but I don’t give a damn about that now

There’s one thing that’s real clear to me: No one dies with dignity

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow, somehow”

Maybe it is the new physical sobriety or the emotional stability and joy, that has quite obviously come alive in his new life, but Isbell has put together the collection of songs of his career. It should lift him up another career notch or two. It is an enjoyable sounding album, from beginning to end if at times heavy on the subject matter, and odd expletive but the overall message is hope. Very, very satisfying indeed.


Top of Lions Head

For me Mo Blake, Dr Maureen McFarland, was a miracle and I kept asking for more miracles but this last Thursday afternoon we found out what length the miracle we were given was. It seems that I should never have known Mo Blake. She should have been gone before I became minister of Fitzroy. I was told this week that a nurse in the ward when Mo was first diagnosed met her recently and could not believe that she was still alive... Mo told the flabbergasted girl, “Blueberries, Termeric and prayer!” We as a Fitzroy family would certainly believe that prayer was what gave us these last thief defying years and a myriad of contributions to a better world.

In Fitzroy we build our vision on 10:10.We aim to be 10:10 in worship, pastoral care and mission. It comes from John 10 verse 10, “I have come that you might have life in all its fullness.” Over these last weeks, as I have feared that today was coming, I have not been able to get away from those words as a description of the too short a life, yet longer than it might have been, of Mo Blake. If ever someone took Jesus invitation to live life and life in all its fullness it was Maureen.

As the week has gone on and I have had the privilege of sitting in an intimate place with the Blakes and McFarlands I have heard more and more tales of ridiculous things that Mo did during these last years while on chemotherapy. For me one of these physical feats is going to be forever my image of Mo. Sadly I wasn’t there to see it. One of my favourite places on earth is Table Mountain and the Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Over years I spent, in different chunks of time, months gazing out at that view from a Guest House, photographing it endlessly. My reason for being in Cape Town was taking students from the Queens Chaplaincy and one year under an adventurous maverick co leader some of the guys climbed that Lion’s Head. After I heard about it I was petrified to think where they’d been. It is steep, a real physical challenge and at times so steep that you climb on dodgy looking ladders. Chris hadn’t the right footwear so Mo wouldn’t let him go on up but in a wee break from another course of chemo Mo was on the peak of the Lion’s Head.

It sums up the life in all its fullness that we give thanks for today. Maureen bossed her illness, eyeballed it, and through it all protected us from it and then walked us through it, right to the end. Intentionally, and at times with some deviousness, she prepared Chris, Richard, Joanna, her family and friends for the farewell and what happens now. Janice and I took her and Chris for lunch just before we went off on holiday, hoping we might be able to minister to her and aware that she just might not be here when our holidays ended. And... she ministered to us in the most powerful and profound way, interestingly almost word for word from the Psalm 95 that we read at the outset. We walked away wondering how that happened. But it was Mo in all her fullness. Precious. Thank you!

The daughter of a Manse, and daughters of the Manse are all special to me a father of daughters of the Manse, Mo grew up in her father’s Church in Castlerock but all of her adult life was spent serving here in Fitzroy. As a flavour of life in all its fullness she served in...

Mums and Tots (in the 90's)

Children's Church
Sunday School
Bible Class
Worship group
Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship
Co-hosted Home Group
Christian Aid collections for a number of years
She instigated or was part of establishing:
Fair Trade stall
119 Senior Citizens lunches
Badminton Club
Youth Workers/USA volunteers Friday teas

She had a huge interest in Mission and spent 6 months as volunteer doctor in Malawi, took a trip with Saphara to India, had a support visit to Patricia Drummond in Nepal, support visits to Sheena and Alan Gaston in Pietermaritzburg and when one of our other missionaries, Colin Sims, was on one furlough from Argentina he lodged at 13 University Ave.

Then there was Nightreach. Thursday nights on the street after midnight, giving bacon butties and coffee to those stumbling home from clubs and pubs. Mo was Nightreach for me. Just a matter of weeks ago she stood here at the lectern and commending those involved in Nightreach, with passion and encouraging others to join them. I stood over in the corner in awe and thought she did it again. She gave all the praise to everyone else and sat back from taking any herself. Another recurring trait.

When Roberta phoned the police to tell them we were going to carry Maureen round today the policeman asked is that the lady from Nightreach. He dropped in regularly for a something warm and a chat.

That contact in this area highlights another powerful challenge from her life. Maureen and Chris’s decision to move into the parish was a sacrificial act to serve her God, her Church and her neighbour. It is a missional act that should be a constant challenge and near embrassment to us all when we ask what it really means to follow Jesus. Mo took seriously the idea that “the “Word had to become flesh” as John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. The full verse is “The word became flesh... and moved into the neighbourhood.” Exactly!

That word became flesh too in the vocational work of Dr Maureen McFarland. She acquired an MB BCH BAO at Queens, did a Houseman’s year Ulster Hospital Dundonald, Vocational General Practice Training in Ballymoney. She became a Member of Royal College of General Practitioners, and a Fellow of Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare as well as a Member Institute Psycho-Sexual Medicine

Maureen was never content with the status quo always keen to push the boundaries of clinical practice. In addition to the qualifications above, Maureen was renowned for her multitude of practical skills.

Whilst still working part-time in General Practice, Maureen became a Family Planning Doctor, initially working one session each week in Jubilee Maternity Hospital. Her achievements are too many to name and some of the what she did might even make her minister blush, if he read the words that he did know, and looking a bit thick at some of the words he doesn’t.

She was a pioneer in contraceptive implants. She set up the first community medically lead Menopause Clinic, becoming the only Faculty Approved Menopause Trainer in Northern Ireland. In 2000 Maureen became Deputy Lead of the Family Planning Service and incorporated psychosexual counselling into her clinic based in College Street.

Maureen was an excellent teacher to anyone, anywhere. She was selected to be a Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare Assessor and continued to lecture and teach on a one to one basis whenever and wherever there was opportunities. Maureen completed two terms as Faculty Deanery Advisor. Until June 2013 Dr McFarland chaired the joint Faculty and Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare Service committee. Together in February 2013 Maureen and two colleagues were awarded first place in the Northern Ireland Healthcare Awards at a ceremony attended by the Minister of Health and the Chief Executive of the Belfast Trust.

Maureen remained an amazing innovator right throughout her distinguished career, however we will remember her because as a doctor, she remained totally focused on patients.

It doesn’t take much commentary to see that word becoming flesh again and like the Jesus, who was the Word and the one she lived her life for, she had a great passion and ability to reach those that society are perhaps prejudiced against and push to the margins. Another challenge to us all.

This is a remarkable life. However, what I have learned this week is that Maureen lived with doubts and insecurities. As we read from her Bible this week she had underlined in the Psalms “faltering in the dark” and in alongside Psalm 51, a Psalm in which King David realised his transgression and then the amazing redemption of God, Mo shared in the margins her amazement that God could forgive her. She was amazed that Jesus should be born, live, die and be raised from the dead for her. We are back to Psalm 95 again. She believed the facts of God’s salvation though sometimes didn’t feel it.

As I reflected on this life in all its fullness this week I realised that not feeling she could do great things Mo was freed up to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and humility. She did that which I think might sadly be too rare in people of faith... she held strongly to her beliefs and carried them, wherever she went, in the most gentle of ways. That allowed her to become friends to whoever. I cannot count the times when I used Mo to get advice about someone in a pastoral situation, or how many times she took that pastoral care on. When not so well, in these last months, we wondered about not asking her to help in a scenario and Eileen McGeown rightfully reminded me that it was a joy for her to do it, helping others was who she was and what she lived for. So in the end she did indeed do great things that all of us gathered here, who in the end are all trophies of her grace, will testify to.

But as we testify to, celebrate and give thanks for her contribution in our lives we realise that a life lived in such fullness will leave a void in all its fullness too. We remember particularly Chris... Richard... and Joanna. Last Saturday night, as Janice and I got a very special time with the four Blakes, Mo had been falling asleep mid bite and mid sentence but as we spoke of how it was time to start thinking about the party she added “but not for you guys.” She was preparing us still. Walking us through. Part of life in all its fullness is the grief and heartache that you guys will feel. Mo would not want you to hide from it. Walk into that valley of the shadow and be assured the Lord will be your shepherd through it.

So, we want to assure you and you Mrs McFarland, Irenie, James and Alfred and your families of our prayers as you go into these next days week and years without that love. I want also to assure you of Fitzroy’s support and ask all of us to not see the refreshments afterwards as the end of our condolences. If you want to give Mo back for what she has selflessly given for you then give back to these guys in whatever way you can.

A last word from Mo from her favourite book. The family have found an amazing trail of verses underlined, dates in the margins and little comments. What I read earlier from Psalm 27 was one such. The date was at the time she was first diagnosed: -

“I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”

Oh my goodness you did Mo. You have heard the phrase when you meet someone living life to the full, “I want some of what she is drinking.” Well Mo, I want some of what you believed in. You have inspired me to make the word flesh and take hold of Jesus gift of life in all its fullness. For that and so so many other things...Thank you!

MAY GOD... (We Sing These Songs)


MAY GOD (We Sing These Songs...)

(This is the poem of a pastor, watching his congregation going through all kinds of pain. The third verse applies something Philip Yancey said about spiritual maturity, where he used that verse in Isaiah 40: 31 about tgose who hope in the Lord and suggested that when we are young we fly but maturity causes us to land, then run and finally we are walking. That is good to keep in mind as those “winds come out of nowhere and knock us off our feet” (Bruce Cockburn). Sunday worship too, at its most Biblical, will bring catharsis in using songs of lament as well as songs of praise. Fitzroy are going through such a time as we grieve the loss of the mighty Mo Blake. Mo and her husband Chris were very much in my thoughts when I wrote this a few years ago. We used it as we came out of a reflection and prayer for Mo's passing into our worship this morning.


When a loved one’s tossed in turbulence

You watch them smashed whichever way

And God never seems to bring the calm

No matter how hard you pray

May unseen threads of mercy

Weave in, the unravelling doubt

May God grab you by the finger

Before life’s hurting drags you out


Knowledge loves the questions

Cos it has a seamless answer

But mystery shimmies all around

She’s an awkward little dancer

And when she dances out of sight

Leaving the soul that lonely ache

May God send a holy comforter

Before you crack up in the heart break


Lord we flew on wings like eagles

Then landed with reality’s thud

We ran but soon were walking

Now crawl through this tear soaked mud

We mature in a world that’s broken

Confessing what our part is

We sing these songs to temper grief

And hope in their catharsis.