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October 2014


God Is Dead

St. Patrick Day in the Holy Lands

They're falling and crawling out of bars

Urinating in people’s doorways

Playing hurly on top of their cars

It's the evolution of the species

The fittest have ended up here

Marinating in their selfish preserves

And a culture of alco-pops and beer.


Christmas Day in the evening

She brings a blade to her wrist

To see the blood the baby bled

And find some kind of feeling in this

It’s the end of the nuclear family

Broken it into a million pieces

Children becoming an inconvenience

As their anorexia and suicide increases.


A shopping mall on Easter Sunday 

Another madman murder rampage

People enjoying a holy day off

Are the carnage of tomorrow’s front page

And the killer gets a tribute on Facebook

That’s the internet’s anarchic nerve

The expert on the late night news

Says we get the heroes we deserve.


There are some who still will speak of God

But we say that we couldn’t care less

We’ve long outgrown old fashioned suspicions

But still we want godliness

Still we want want godliness.



I am intrigued by Marianne Faithfull. A couple of summers ago I read not one but a couple of her biographies. She fascinates me as a chronicler of those heady London days of the Swinging Sixties. It’s an era I love and often pretend to be researching for a novel when I indulge in its pop history.

Her place in that era that fascinates me gives her a place in my musical world now. When I bought her 20th album it was as much for the he near holy/unholy icon that she is as much as the limited often coarse voice that she carries. Yet, Faithfull makes records that have artistic interest. She is like the female Leonard Cohen though nowhere near as old and a whole lot more surprising that she is with us! 

Indeed she uses a Cohen song, Going Home but it is her collaborations with Nick Cave, as she has done before, the younger edgier Anna Calvi and Steve Earle that bring the real musical intrigue. Earle brings a country looseness to the title track, Calvi adds popped up guitar on Falling Back, a recent success on Later… With Jools, and Cave’s piano melancholy on Late Victorian Holocaust is perhaps the marquee song.   

Just as U2 went back to their youth for inspiration on Songs Of Innocence so Faithfull went back to her London days. Not somewhere she would like to go back to London haunts Faithfull’s life and if you’d read the biographies I’d read you’d understand.

What I remember being blown away about from her writings was how she was absolutely flabbergasted that Edward Fox should become a Christian and leave acting after his role alongside Mick Jagger in the sexually pioneering and controversial film Performance. Everything went in the Sixties accept the outrageous idea of Christian faith! 

Another of the megastar co-writers on Give My Love To London is Roger Waters whose Sparrows Will Sing perhaps bring us up to date with the spiritual state of Faithful -

“A child breaks the ice and peers into the hidden depths

I'm trying to decipher the horror of un-holiness

I have no doubt you'll figure it out someday”

Marianne Faithfull’s 20th record is a woman wrestling with her past and still questing in the present. It is as fascinating a record as the life it describes. Far from perfect it is rough edged enough to tell us much about the 60s and whatever we call this decade too.

U2: LUCIFER'S HANDS - A Glam Rock Groove To Liberation

U2 3

The morning after purchasing the deluxe version of U2’s Songs Of Innocence I left my children to school and as I started the return journey pressed play on disc 2. In rumbled Lucifer’s Hands and 3 minutes and 55 seconds later I was lifted with elation. What a song! I would have had it on the main disc released free to iTunes customers, with gratitude or controversy, through Apple the month before. Whatever the reasons why it wasn’t, and that could take another blog, this was a joyous Monday morning surprise.

The first thing to hit me was the sound, the grinding clanking stutter of Zoo Station jumping into the glam rock groove of T. Rex's 20th Century Boy. That was my era, when I discovered music as an eleven year old. The same age as the members of U2, I am sure that they were taking me back through sound exactly as intended. U2 have spoken about listening to the music of their youth for this project and Bono has spoken about how those sounds opened doors in his memory to start writing about those formative days; and no matter what the title suggests they were not all innocent.

On top of this wondrous sound we find ourselves, as we do for most of the album, in the late 70s, and in this one particularly, the charismatic revival that as sweeping across north Dublin and Mount Temple School. 

The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swirling around my heart

In his life and vocation Bono’s Christian faith and his music swirl around, blending and blurring. In the next verse the NME and the Scriptures, particularly John’s book of Revelation, are interwoven. If the rebirth he found in the Spirit brought some sense to his grieving teenage life, then music brought an outlet for the anger. This shouldn’t be seen as a surprise as Christian faith has always used music as a conduit of engagement with God and in both directions of that. Worship to God, the seeking of catharsis from God. They are the heart of the Christian experience.

The main point of Lucifer’s Hands is freedom.  

You no longer got a hold on me

I’m out of Lucifer’s hands

You no longer got a hold on me

You’re no longer in control of me

I am

Note the “I am”. On the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb record this Old Testament name for God was all over the book that came with the album and also the core of the song All Because Of You. It is another clue to where the freedom comes. 

Neither is it the first time that Lucifer’s Hands have turned up on a U2 song. On Joshua Tree’s central theological song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for -

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

There is yet another reference back to U2’s past in this song. Bono turns around the lyrics of Rejoice from the October album when he now claims that he can change the world but can’t change the world in himself. Thirty three years after Rejoice was written Bono has literally changed the world through his work for development, AIDS and Fair Trade. He still struggles with the foibles and quirks within himself. He understands why people don’t quite get him. He is more than aware that the world within himself, the world with its beginnings declared on Songs Of Innocence are still not sorted. It is why he still needs the music. 

What the freedoms are that he is eulogising about in this song are not clear. School? Culture? Death? Himself? Even that community where St John Divine’s Scripture is centre stage? Whatever it is this is the song of a man who knew from his teens that there were personal and universal demons that could oppress. This a song of liberation. Which is how I felt after that school run. I got out of the car set free!



Fitzroy Board


A prayer evening to concentrate on the implications of our current series of sermons on Fruitfulness On The Front Lines. We have a new Halls complex opening next year. We have a huge area of South Belfast with no Church that has a minister. We have Fitzroy people serving in Spain, South Africa and London. We have a variety of front lines we are all on every day of the week. Let us pray for vision, courage and grace in all of those situations.


U2’s new record is dripping with theological gems. It also has great tunes, the first time maybe that they have been confident enough to do acoustic versions. On this evening the Fitzroy singers including Chris Wilson, Caroline Orr and Dave Thompson will perform U2 songs and Steve Stockman whose biography Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2 once hit #99 on Amazon will draw out the spiritual truths within. A classic Fitzroy musical extravaganza!

click here to read more about this evening...

NOVEMBER 16th - SOURCE - What God Is Like

The Source is a new regular event where our vibrant and creative youth lead us in a celebration of worship and imaginative ways to communicate faith. Tonight they will be looking at who God is. Paul Bowman will add a short epilogue. 


In October we had a 3 Part Series about How To Read The Bible. Stephen McIlwaine gave un a overview of Scripture and then showed us how the varying genres and contexts fitted in. Over the next number of months we will be dipping into the genres and seeing what we can learn and how we can read them with authenticity and authority in the 21st Century. Mark Fullerton did his Masters dissertation on Ecclesiastes. 


In our past Gospel According To… series we have covered Harry Potter and Narnia as well as our rock stuff and art and theatre. This one, like Harry Potter and Narnia is geared to the whole family and we will start at 6.30 as a result. Expect a range of mediums used. Expect it to be fun, gripping for children and deep in content.

click here to read a review of The Gospel According To... Narnia



To all involved in inter-party talks,

We are at a fragile time on our journey towards political and societal peace. We are in a impasse and there seems little warmth in relationship. We need generosity and imagination in your current inter-party talks. Many of us are praying for that. 

A few years ago the band REM sang the following: 

“I can't say that I love Jesus

that would be a hollow claim.

He did make some observations

and I'm quoting them today.

"Judge not lest ye be judged."

what a beautiful refrain…”

You don’t have to believe in Jesus as God to pay attention to his wisdom. Whatever you think about Jesus, whoever you think he is, take a little time to read his words at the bottom of this blog. They might seem a little out of the box. Indeed they might seem a little bit insane. Yet, they might be a formula that could change our political landscape. 

This crazy stuff about loving enemies is born out of the central gem of belief in Christianity; grace. Bono, a rock star who does love Jesus, has described grace as “a thought that can change the world”. Bono believes that grace interrupts how it is and can change things into how they can be. He uses the word to describe what happened in South Africa. I believe that this radical, reckless grace of God that loves enemies and makes peace across fractured communities is a revolutionary act in a world that needs something crazy and seemingly miraculous. 

I leave the potential for peace in your hands. So as you continue these talks why not read these words of Jesus before entering every discussion…

LUKE 6: 27-31 

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you…


Grace to all of you,


Steve Stockman



Senzo Meyiwa

I heard last night on Breaking News on Sky Sports that Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa had been shot dead. Meyiwa was also goalkeeper and captain of the national team. For those who don’t know, the Orlando Pirates are one of the top soccer teams in South Africa. The Pirates and The Kaiser Chiefs are the two biggest clubs, are both based in the Soweto township in Johannesburg and have a fierce rivalry. 

In 2000 on my first trip to Cape Town townships I was fascinated that Cape Town’s black community supported these teams from hundreds of miles away. The townships overflowed with Chiefs and Pirates shirts, mostly Chiefs it has to be said. The contrary in me was drawn to the Pirates. I started wearing Pirates shirts and hats and it gave me strong connections wherever I went.

I loved Cape Town. It consistently stunned me with its beauty, at least on the days it wasn't misty and raining. Yet, it had its dark side. The first time we were robbed (yes, there were a few) I started writing the short poem below. My initial anger was seeking justice and revenge. That evening though we went to a Ronan Keating concert! Forgive me but I had a friend playing in his band and some of the students I was with loved it. When Keating sang Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto I was stopped in my tracks. 

In The Ghetto is the story of a child born in the poor side of town and a mother who fears that the poverty will drag him into crime. Originally titled The Vicious Circle the song humanises the criminal, a hungry young boy who ends up in crime and was finally killed himself. I realised as I listen that the crime that causes people to live in environments that lead them into crime needs my anger too.

The news of the murder of Senzo Meyiwa made me think of Underneath The Beauty. Once again the underbelly of the land I much love had raised its ugly side. Crime and murder are sadly to regularly a part of South African life. My students were to play a match against a team and when another team turned up we heard that the team captain, who we had played against the previous week, had been shot dead the night before. 

Meyiwa was shot dead protecting his girlfriend, singer Kelly Khumalo, from a gang raid on her house. There is no excuse for his murder. It is the tragic cutting short of a young life. Yet, there is no excuse either for the world from where his killers came. Crime and murder flourish in the fertile soil of poverty and injustice. There is a vicious circle in the ghetto.


From underneath the beauty of the mountain

The underbelly of the ugly struck

Curse can pull a gun and shoot you

No matter your treasure trove of luck

The innocence of my trust was violated

My soul left battered and broken

I came to this city all wide eyed

Now they’re bloodshot and ripped wide open

In the heat of my cold blooded anger

I want to catch them and never let go

Then an angel with the voice of Elvis

Sang a song called In the Ghetto.


Be God's

I have used the opening gambit before. “I am praying you don’t have a good marriage!” Many will know that it comes from my old friend Rich Mullins. He used to sign autograph’s, “Be God’s” . He thought being good was easy and a lot less than what God demands anyway. I have added to Rich’s thoughts that I reckon the devil would settle for being good. At El Gruer and Stephen Mansell’s wedding I used the talk to draw this out using Jesus words in Luke 6: 27-36. That is a curve ball of a Wedding Reading, all about loving enemies and doing good to those who hate you! Yet, from it I tried to inspire El and Steve to live out of the box mad, beyond normal, nice and good and to be grace compelled interrupters.


Just before this passage Jesus has been rattling out out of the box phrases like “blessed are you who are poor” and “blessed are you when people hate you” before adding “woe to you who are rich” and “woe to you when people speak well of you.” That is out of the box insanity. Then Jesus goes on to say that  when you are hit on the cheek you are not only not to retaliate but to actually turn the other cheek. He calls his followers to “love their enemies”, and “do good to those who hate them”.

This is crazy stuff and why good is easy but living this Jesus life is so out of the box. 


This madness lives life way beyond the normal life. I always think that they devil settles for nice. There are many people who are nice neighbours but make no impact in the world at all. Jesus was keen that we would go beyond what everybody else might think is good. This is what Jesus was talking about when he says that everyone loves those who love them and lend to others expecting to get repaid. 


There is a key to all of this. It is in the last throw away lines of this passage from Luke chapter 6: 35-36… “you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

This out of the box madness… this going beyond the normal, nice and good… is all sourced from the compelling grace of God. It is God who does that mad thing. God’s Grace compelled him and “he demonstrated his love for us in this that while we we still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Showing kindness to the ungrateful and wicked is the example we follow when we follow Jesus. That grace then interrupts the way the world is into how the world can be. 

So I will not settle for passionate Jesus followers like El and Steve to have “good” marriages. No way. Go for more. Out of the box. Beyond the good. I pray that God’s grace is a verb in their marriage and compels them to interrupt the world where they will live and love and serve…

Are they teaching you how to paint, my love

Suppressing the freedom of your art

Are they colouring inside the lines my love

Oppressing the love of your precious heart

Remember good is not always best, my love

There are times the Lord God deplores it

Rules are not always the way, my love

The devil will more than settle for it

So let your imagination go mad, my love

Throw shapes and shimmy and shake

Create the most seductive intrigue, my love

That no other human being could make

Yes, smash their lines to pieces, my love

Put your soul and this world’s at odds

Be an agitating provocation, my love

And the beauty of the wildness of God.”



I thought I heard the captain’s voice

It's hard to listen while you preach

Like every broken wave on the shore

This was as far as I can reach

  • Every Breaking Wave


“And I’m a long way 

From your hill of Calvary

And I’m a long way

From where I was and where I need to be”

 - Song For Someone


“Baby, every dog on the street

Knows that we’re in love with defeat

Are we ready to be swept off our feet

And stop chasing every breaking wave”

 - Every Breaking Wave


Blood in the house

Blood in the street

The worst things in the world

Are justified by belief

  • Raised By Wolves


“Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain”

 - Sleep Like A Baby Tonight


“Every sailor knows that the sea

Is a friend made enemy

And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is

To live without intimacy”

 - Every Breaking Wave


I woke up at the moment

When the miracle occurred

I get so many things I don’t deserve

 - The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)


The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swirling around my heart

 - Lucifer’s Hands


“A heart that is broken

Is a heart that is open”

 - Cedarwood Road


Soldier, soldier

We signed our lives away

Complete surrender

The only weapon we know

 - This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now




Last night Máirtín Ó Muilleoir became Sinn Fein’s MLA for South Belfast, the constituency I live in. When I heard the news I Tweeted him to tell him "I have been praying for that!" Though I have no committed political allegiances it is not a comfortable thing for me to be praying for a Sinn Fein politician. I am from Ballymena. Friends have had their loved ones killed by the IRA. 

Many of my family and denomination will struggle with the fact that I spent a lot of time with Máirtín Ó Muilleoir during his year as Lord Mayor of Belfast. I understand their unease but Ó Muilleoir smashes our caricatures. I am not naive enough to believe that he doesn’t have an agenda. He’s a politician and that is his vocation. Yet, I have found Máirtín very genuine in his passion to bring my city together and to work for the good of the entire city. Indeed, he personifies Jeremiah’s encouragement to the Jews to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city… Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Hard and all as some of the  Protestant community will find that, it is difficult to make a case against his hard work for peace and prosperity.

We are back to prayer and this is exactly why I had prayed for Máirtín to move up from City Hall to Stormont. As someone passionate for peace in our land I have strong belief that we need new political leaders who can somehow break out of the sectarian default. We also need leaders who are no longer attached to the conflicts of the past and carry the Troubles in their image and our perceptions of them. We need different perspectives on both sides of our divide. We need those who have warmer personalities and show generosity in their relationships across our blood stained walls. We need to not just pray for those we vote for. We need to pray for those who those we vote for will have to work with. I am praying for more people like Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Nichola Mallon, Gavin Robinson (haven't we had three-in-a-row great Lord Mayors in Belfast!) and John Kyle to be political leaders. All four would bring their fresh and imaginative approach to the shaping of our country.

We are in a very fragile place in our political peace just now. Relationships are soured. Progress has slowed to a pungent trickle. Hopelessness is a stench in the air. As I watch the debacle at Stormont I despair and pray that somehow new politicians will make their way through the rotten inertia and inspire us to the future that all our people deserve; that peaceful and prosperous place that Jeremiah asked the people of God to pray for.

After I Tweeted Máirtín last night he Tweeted back to me, “you know that if the talks break down, they will accuse you guys of not praying hard enough. Looking forward 2 working with churches”. I responded, “We need to get up off our knees and show some grace in pragmatic shalom bringing too! Keep me accountable and I will you!” 

Máirtín’s comments are in character. He would never describe himself as a religious man but believes that the Churches are powerful places of transformation. He reiterated that again and again while he was Mayor and proved he wasn’t just charming the Church crowd when he told the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis that the most radical places he had seen in his year in office were not political offices but Churches. He values the Churches' support and knows the potency of Church at its best. After a recent racist attack he called the Churches to respond, not as a criticism but as an encouragement.  

I was serious too in my response. Someone posted on Facebook yesterday that “prayer is as important to the Christian as breathing.” I agree but humans don’t live to breathe, they breathe to live. That living for the Christian is about bringing Jesus alternative Kingdom on earth. We need to pray but then get up off our knees to be the resources that God can use to answer our prayers. There might be no nation on earth to have had more prayers prayed for it than Northern Ireland. Not making ourselves available in the grace, generosity and imagination of the life of Christ might be why they haven’t been answered. So I for one am going to work with whoever will partner with me to bring God’s peace. I pray for more politicians across our parties like Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. I hope that there will be opportunities to work again with Máirtín and, if we do, I pray we will keep one another accountable. Amen.


Jackson Browne

With Jackson Browne you get what you get. There are no reinventions of electronica experimentations. Standing In The Breach is comfortably Jackson but don’t think that that is musically dull. For me Val McCallum’s guitar playing throughout plays the grace notes that add the textures. Greg Leisz genius pedal steel is another hue. It is a fresh Americana sound and it dresses some of Browne’s most satisfying songs and prophetic relevance in a wee while.  

It is not the sound you buy Jackson Browne for. He’s a songwriter. Maybe one of the best there has ever been. It is his lyrical genius, his social relevance and his spiritual search.

He is an artist who wants his art and life to transform the world. The dark doom of the apocalyptic cover tells us where we are in history. The title of Standing In The Breach is a mission statement and the songs expose the things that endanger our world and the call is to be door openers not wall builders, to decide which side your on and stand in the breach. 

The problems are spelled out on The Long Way Round:


Greed: -


Even in the richer neighbourhoods

People don't know when they've got it good

They've got the envy, and they've got it bad


Guns: -


It's never been that hard to buy a gun

Now they'll sell a Glock 19 to just about anyone

The seeds of tragedy are there

In what we feel we have the right to bear

To watch our children come to harm

There in the safety of our arms


And environmental catastrophe: -


I could feel my memory letting go 

Some two or three disasters ago

It's hard to say which did more ill

Citizens United or the Gulf oil spill


The call is to respond and get committed to something bigger and humanely better. In Walls and Doors he gives a choice -


Ever since the world's existed

There's one thing that is certain

Some people build walls

Others open doors


There are sides to take and Browne is asks Which Side Are You On -


Which side?

The bankers and their special friends

Who rob you time and again

Who like to pretend they're the only game in town

Or the people who

Hope with everything they do

They can build something new

And turn this world around


It is hope that he os holding out for; another way and another day. In the meantime he asks that we are Standing In The Breach: -


And though the earth may tremble and cast our works aside

And though our efforts resemble the fluctuating tide

We rise and fall with the trust and belief

That love redeems us each

And bend our backs and hearts together standing in the breach


This record for me is a musical version of the brilliant TV series The West Wing. After every episode of The West Wing I was always inspired to get up and change the world. It stirred me. It revealed the malaise to me. It brought the hope of redemption to me. It called me to that redeeming work with my life. So with Jackson Browne in general and Standing In The Breach in particular. I’m on the side of Jackson’s side!