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September 2014



The Ryder Cup! What drama; on and off the course. This is golf in a different universe. Players can go for shots that they can’t dare hit in stroke play. Players can cheer with the crowd in partisan ways that they can’t every other week. Players can help each other and sense what team work is like in what is a very individualistic sport. 

That last point has been highlighted most of all in the postmortem of this particular Ryder Cup. It would seem that the winning team was more united that the one that lost. The closing American press conference was a sad and unpleasant place where Phil Mickelson exposed the disunity and lack or respect for captain Tom Watson that told a few tales.  

Mickelson of course had been asked about the unity of the American team before the match started and told the press that America was not only united but hadn’t taken out litigation against each other. This latter phrase, supposed to be humorous, was a reference to a court case involving European players Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. It seemed a little tasteless, and surprising coming from gentleman Phil but it perhaps betrayed Mickelson’s unease with the team situation.

That it was Phil who then critiqued Tom Watson at the post match conference only heightened the PR disaster it has been for Mickelson. He also talked some nonsense. He was speaking about the last time America won the Cup in 2008 under Paul Azinger and how that formula that weekend had seemed to have been lost. What formula? America hadn’t won for nine years before that, so it wasn’t exactly a solid formula. Azinger’s captaincy has to be commended but a formula? 

What wasn’t said is that the European team that year was captained by Nick Faldo. That might have been a contributing factor to the American win. During this Ryder Cup Faldo criticised European hero Sergio Garcia as being useless and the European team, most vocally Graeme McDowell, criticised Faldo’s captaincy in 2008. Again the importance of team unity came through.

As well as that Tom Watson had captained a rare Ryder Cup victory for America in 1993. Not only that but it was the last American victory on European soil so Watson’s formula had worked in the past. That it seems, from what I have heard, that Mickelson neither arrived with the rest of the American team or indeed returned home with the rest of the American team could say more about who was the contributor to the lack of team cohesion than Watson!

That American needs a formula might be Mickelson’s most useful remark. Europe have a formula and it works. It is very like the Liverpool Football formula of the 70s and 80s. The European captain Paul McGinley was at his sixth Ryder Cup, as a player, as a vice captain and now as captain. Around him as vice captains he had two former captains and a former vice captain. This is a back room staff and a team that have bonded over decades. It is a small pool of players and captains who know each other, relate to each other off the course and when they come together don’t set up anything particularly new but build on what they have minted over years. So many of the European players in their praise of McGinley spoke of how he simply tweaked the detail. He didn’t change the formula. 

Across the world, America don’t do team sport. The soccer team is making inroads but Baseball and American Football in particular are very insular. The European team have grown up loving team sports like soccer and rugby or in Captain McGinley case GAA hurling and football. I get the impression that McIlroy thinks this is as close to getting to play for his beloved Manchester United or Ulster Rugby team as he will experience and he embraces that as a joy. 

My hope is that American can sort it out. Eight defeats in ten? How long before Europe win another and lose the Ryder Cup altogether as American loses interest. Maybe it was Phil's pitch to have Azinger chosen as the next captain? Maybe we need Nick Faldo back again as part of that formula?! (sorry… that is a little Mickelson-esque!)

U2; THE MIRACLE (of JOEY RAMONE) - Where New York Punk and Christian Theology Blend

Bono and Joey

Listeners to my sermons, readers of this blog and converters with me over coffee will know that one of my favourite lines in the world and very very often repeated is Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation; “where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need”

The lead off song on U2’s Songs Of Innocence is all about U2 in general and Bono in particular finding that vocation -

“I was young, not dumb

Just wishing to be blinded

By you, brand new

And we were pilgrims on our way…”

The anchor for the song is the band’s mate Guggi, who has the song Cedarwood Road dedicated to him later on the record, finding an exit door to sneak U2 in to see The Ramones. Teenagers finding their way in music this gig was seismic. Bono discovered another singer that, as he describes it, sang like a girl. All musical things became possible. 

But, as with everything U2, there is more to “the miracle” and the pilgrimage than a career in music. If we tack this song out of its track listing order and hear the songs later on where Bono loses him mother, as does Larry, and the resulting volcano is bubbling, this is another song of redemption. Miracles are spiritual and for Bono the music is blended in to his discovery of faith and his pilgrimage ever since has been very much about both. 

“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred

Heard a song that made some sense out of the world

Everything I ever lost now has been returned

The most beautiful sound I ever heard”

Bono has never taken more time or care over his lyrics than he does on Songs Of Innocence. Here is some of the evidence. This is succinct, subtle and solid lyrically and theologically. A young man lost and confused finds a miracle to make sense of it all. For the nerds like me, who scan the lyrics like Old Testament scholars in the Hebrew text and who read every interview, the line “The most beautiful sound I ever heard” is key. This is where sound and spirit really do become one. Bono has been known to love the old hymn Amazing Grace and has spoken of his love for the line “amazing grace, how sweet the sound”. This is the time of Bono’s miracle for sure but as well as the punk figure of Joey Ramone the gem of Christian theology that is the unmerited favour of God’s grace to lost confused humanity is centre of the mix.

Bono goes on about it later in the song, “I get so many things I don't deserve”; grace defined beautifully again! U2 have awakened to transcendent intreuption. The deepest gladness of their art will evermore be given to transform the deep need of their own lives and the world too. 


Tutu Rag

I am a hoarder and married a hoarder. Yikes! Yet, in recent years I have learned to let go. When we moved house a few years ago I finally looked at my 23 year collection of my favourite music magazines (every single copy) and realised I had to throw them out. After chucking the first ten into a skip it became easier. More recently our front room flooded while my favourite few hundred Cds were scattered across the floor. Don’t ask. For a moment I grieved the loss of treasured processions and then realised they were only CDs. Having to reflect for this Pause For Thought I realised that there are no treasured possessions I would miss. 

Jesus said that where our treasure is there is our heart. 

A few weeks ago I was at a Think Tank meeting for a Christian NGO and was asked to bring something that expressed my interest in world development. I brought a rag doll of Desmond Tutu. I have spent a chunk of my life in South Africa involved in building houses on townships, ministering to people with HIV AIDS and engaging with Fair Trade and Peace. Tutu has become a hero and his belief in God and  commitment to his people has been a real inspiration to me. 

But as well as being a representation of Tutu the purchase of this doll actually changed something. I bought it for my daughter on the Khayelitsha  township in Cape Town from some women who were making these dolls to lift themselves out of poverty and create their own business. I love having processions that are not just good but good for something. 

The Christian faith that I share with Desmond Tutu encourages me to invest in things that make an impact now and forever. Where my heart is there you’ll find what I treasure. I treasure most when my heart is compassionate as Jesus was for those in our world who need justice, freedom, peace and dignity. It’s why I treasure my Desmond Tutu rag doll.



What IF…


We lived the grace we are blessed with

And loved as we have been loved

What would that look like in practice, not just thought? 


What IF…


We repented and believed

And turned our living right around

What would that look like among the forgotten?


What IF… 


We took up our cross

Denied ourselves and followed 

What would that look like in our rendering of wealth?


What IF…


God’s kingdom came down

And God’s will was the world’s constitution 

What would the streets of earth look like?


What IF…


The first were last

And the last became our priority

What would the poorest places look like?


What IF…


We stored up treasure

In heaven and not on earth

What would the return on our investment look like?


What IF…


The rich like camels could make it

Through the eye of a needle

What would the heaven on the other side look like?


What IF…


(On Sunday September 28th 2014 at 7pm in Fitzroy... a Tearfund event will ask What IF... What Next?... music, video, reflection, prayer, action... What came along! ALL WELCOME!)


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - A 65th Birthday Cover Versions Playlist

Cover Me

(to celebrate the 65th Birthday of Bruce Springsteen here is a playlist of cover versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. There is a thematic journey in my head but you might not notice... alienation towards redemption like Springsteen's life and songs!)

Born In The USA - Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell

(from Dead Man’s Town)

Because The Night - Patti Smith

(from Easter)

The Fever - Southside Johnny And the Asbury Jukes

(from I Don’t Want To Go Home)

Mansion On The Hill - The National

(from The Virginia EP)

Brilliant Disguise - Elvis Costello

(from Kojak Variety; Remastered and Extended)

Wages Of Sin - Damian Jurado

(from A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska)

It’s Hard To Be A Saint in The City - David Bowie

(from The Best Of David Bowie 1974/79) 

I’m On Fire - Heather Nova

(from Wonderlust live)

Brothers Under The Bridge - Cowboy Junkies

(21st Century Blues)

Independence Day - The Waterboys

(from Kiss The World)

Atlantic City - The Band

(from Jericho)

Born To Run - Melissa Etheridge

(from The Concert For New York)

Drive All Night - Glen Hansard

(from Drive All Night EP)

Further On (Up The Road) - Johnny Cash

(from American 5; A Hundred Highways)

The Light of Day - The Barbusters

(from The Light of Day soundtrack)

Blinded By The Light - Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

(from The Roaring Silence)

No Surrender - Holly Williams

(from Dead Man’s Town)

If I Should Fall Behind - Grant McLennan

(from Lighting Fires EP)

Land of Hope and Dreams - Martyn Joseph 

(from Tires Rushing By In The Rain)

The Ghost Of Tom Joad - Rage Against The Machine

(from Renegades)

DEAD MAN'S TOWN - Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA Reimagined!

Dead Man's Town

I really got Bruce Springsteen around 1984. My mate Rab had been a fan for a long time and had even made the pilgrimage to England to see him live. The River certainly attracted my attention and I loved the stripped back Nebraska. By 1984 I was into all things Bruce and within mili-seconds so was the entire world. I remember longing to have that live experience that Rab had had but by the time it came at Slane Castle in 1985 the place was jammed (double its legal capacity apparently) with people who frowned at songs like Rosalita, thinking they were new, because they had no idea he had a back catalogue!

Born In The USA sent Springsteen through the popular stratosphere. Single after single competed with Michael Jackson's Thriller. Dancing In The Dark with a very young Courtney Cox disco dancing with a tidied up Bruce. There was a little too much sheen to the whole thing. It was great to see Bruce so popular but dance remixes of Cover Me; come on! So though I liked a few songs, No Surrender in particular, this was probably my least favourite Bruce Springsteen record. After reading Dave Marsh’s biography and hearing songs like Dancing In The Dark and Born In The USA in acoustic arrangements I began to understand the songs but it would still be the last Bruce record I would desire to play, the last that I bought on CD. 

So, today on Bruce’s 65th birthday I am loving Dead Man’s Town, a tribute album To Springsteen that reinvents every song on Born In The USA, giving it grit and meaning that the pop audience at Slane probably well and truly missed. Justin Townes Earle reinventing the fast ball of Glory Days into a very slow slide curve ball; wow! Low giving I’m On Fire a lot more smoulder; ache! Nicole Atkins' weary and frayed Dancing In The Dark; melancholy! Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell’s Born in The USA all weeping fiddles and alienated emotion; political! Dead Man’s Town is a revelation. It digs deep and pulls through the thin shiny veneer of the original record a collection of songs that are weighty and powerful in the political, social and personal struggle of 1980’s Reagan America. It becomes a close companion to Wrecking Ball. It is a beautiful 65th Birthday present for the Boss!




On June 15th 2013 we in Fitzroy we hosted a Tearfund Fringe event to the big IF event that was happening that afternoon in Botanic Avenue. For many of us the Fringe event was the most powerful part of the day. We listened to Tearfund reps from many countries, we heard from Naomi Long MP, we reflected on God’s word, we prayed, we were inspired, we were challenged and we gave ourselves to making a difference. 

What happened? What did it achieve? I never believe that we should confine the transformation to the statistics of change across the world. There can be an impact in the lives of those of us who campaign that gives an impetus to life changing behavioural patterns. That is not so easy to quantify. But what about the stats? Did IF make any difference? And, what now? Where can we go after IF?

These are the questions we will be pondering on this Sunday night in Fitzroy. With music from Dave Thompson, who was inspired to write a song at that Fringe event fifteen months ago and The Radiator Blues Band, videos and contributions from Ben Niblett, Tearfund Head of Campaigns, Alain Emerson from 24/7, myself and others we will be celebrating the past, asking where it leaves us now and praying about the future. 

It will be a vibrant night that hopes to change the world in each of us that we might change the world around us.




Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning in Fitzroy (11pm) we will be getting into our new series on Fruitfulness On The Frontline. This series is asking how we can be salt and light on the sfrontlines of our lives, seeing work, home and Church as frontlines for God's Kingdom coming. It is based on Mark Greene from the London Institute For Contemporary Christianity's book of the same name. Tomorrow we will be looking at Modelling Godly Character on our frontlines and looking at the importance of What Jesus Would Be to being able to d What Jesus Would Do... We will also be launching our Foodbank programme... all wrapped in worship from the Michael Doloughan's youthful worship band. 

Tomorrow evening (7pm) we start a new series on How To Read The Bible. How can we make sense of an ancient text in an ancient context to understand what it means for us today. Stephen McIlwaine will unpack these questions tomorrow night, on October 5th and 19th. Read more about How To Read Your Bible here



As Christians, we say we follow what the Bible teaches.  We describe it as God’s Word, and we say it is inspired and authoritative.  It talks about love and forgiveness, but it also prohibits eating shellfish and says that adulterers should be executed.  Some Christians use it to justify things that other Christians find abhorrent. 

The Bible was written a very long time ago, over many centuries, in a very different world from today.  Is it possible to interpret its teachings for today’s Belfast in a faithful and consistent way, without either taking it impractically literally or spiritualizing it to suit what we think it should say?

In this short series, we will look at the Bible, its message, and how we can find meaning in it for today’s world.  We will put the case that there is a way to handle the Bible faithfully and consistently, in a way that guides us and challenges us, while remaining relevant.  These talks won’t be heavily technical, academic talks, and they won’t answer all our questions.   They are aimed to be devotional and exciting and to give us the confidence that we can find meaning and guidance in the Bible, and to inspire us to read more. 

Sunday evening 21st September 7pm – The Story of the Bible.  

The 66 books of the Bible do add together to tell us one overall story.  We will look at this grand narrative and the sort of God it describes.  We will see how the different books contribute to the story, and how knowing where they fit helps us to interpret their relevance for us.

Sunday evening 5th October 7pm  - The Literature of the Bible

Some Bible books are history, some are poetry, some are letters, others are prophetic writings.  Just as we don’t read Seamus Heaney the same way as we read the Belfast Telegraph, so we will look at how we can’t read Deuteronomy or Psalms the same way as we read Revelation or Luke’s Gospel.

Sunday evening 19th October 7pm – Focusing In

We might look at some specific passages and see how knowing what type of writing they are and where they fit in the story, helps us to know how what they say applies to us.  Or we might pick a part of the story that isn’t so well known and look at it and see what we can learn from it.


Cedarwood Road

Cedarwood Road is the song on Songs Of Innocence that brings some resolution. Actually this song is where salvation comes, in literal ways. Bono’s grief begins in Iris (Hold Me Close). The anger is ready to erupt on Volcano. Raised By Wolves adds national trauma. Cedarwood Road continues the running, with fear and soul searching but a cherry blossom opens another world.

In the album’s liner notes, so often quoted in this short blog series, Bono writes about the Rowen family at No. 5. He calls them an “Old Testament tribe.” He is so right. I have had the privilege of getting to know some of this family. I think I once made a plea to be adopted as a 50 year old brother! They are Old Testament in size (10 children meant that like the tribes there were 12 in the house!), their deep roots of faith and the drama of their lives. 

This family it would seem gave the young Paul Hewson a place, and tribal meals when life with his dad and brother who was 8 years older was not much like family. Guggi became Bono’s best friend. Cedarwood Road is dedicated to him and don’t lose the nuanced lyric, “and a friendship once it’s won… is won… is one.” Do you see that switch in spelling? I learned from a Rowen recently that U2’s song One was written about Guggi too. This seems the proof. So Andy Rowen has two songs about him. Guggi two about him. Old Testament tribe, indeed!

As well as a friend for life in Guggi, Bono got so much more from this family. He has spoken about heading off to Gospel meetings with the Rowens and this it would seem is where Bono’s had his earliest experiences of evangelical Christianity. He writes in the liner notes, “In their company I saw some great preachers who opened up these scary black bibles and made the word of God dance for them, and us.” In the song he sings, “Cymbals clashing, Bibles smashing/Paints the world you need to see.” Brushing Lou Reed and the Rowen family together in the liner notes Bono concludes, “Lou Reed, God rest his soul, said you need a busload of faith to get by. That bus was full of Rowens and I was on it.”

Salvation is expressed on Cedarwood Road with the key lines, “And that cherry blossom tree/Was a gateway to the sun.” Make no mistake the gentle but strong Biblical faith of the Rowen family alongside the Christlike grace they showed to a teenage boy in a dreadful personal place had an impact that they could never have imagined. The Rowen parents, Robert and the gentle Godly Winnie, remind me of Andrew in the New Testament Gospels. It was Andrew who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter became the one with the widest influence but Andrew was the “gateway to the son!” The very ordinary way that Robert and Winnie Rowen loved their neighbour has changed millions of lives around the world. Quite an example to us all!

Before Bono ever thought he could change the world he believed he could change the world in himself. That change was energised by his Christian commitment. Cedarwood Road was the sacred ground on which his rebirth happened. Don’t miss the last line of the song. For me this is the genius line on  a record that is filled with spiritual gems. In capital letters on the lyric booklet, “A HEART THAT IS BROKEN, IS A HEART THAT IS OPEN.” I have found this to be absolutely true. Those who have been broken are usually more sympathetic and grace driven in how they treat others. Bono’s brokenness as honestly exposed in the very raw emotion of these four songs at the heart of Songs Of Innocence made him the man who would be so open to the needs of the marginalised of our world.