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November 2014

October 2014

CARNAGE ON OUR ROADS; A SPIRITUAL RESPONSE

Car crash

Last week we woke up to the tragic news of the death of 18 year old Queens University student Enda Doran. The musically gifted young an was hit by a van while returning to Queen’s Hall Of Residence. It happened less than a mile from where we live and, as the road was closed for investigations, the entire area was gridlocked during rush hour the next morning.

On the school run we were caught in a rare traffic jam on our quiet little park. Unaccustomed to such early morning traffic a neighbour had reversed out of her driveway and got caught with nowhere to go. I was then astonished as she got out of her car to harangue the car preventing her from getting out. That driver in turn was soon out of his car asking what he was supposed to do. Clearly heated by the inconvenience my neighbour stood her ground and therefore prevented cars coming up the park in the other direction. It was an awkward, if entertaining, moment that for me said much about the spiritual malaise that is causing the carnage on our roads. Sadly two more lives were lost on the roads in the following 24 hours.

We have become a very self centred generation with little respect for other people. Our road rage, manifested on the outside or seething beneath the surface on the inside, is like an intense microcosm of such. It is proving to be a dangerous place for such frailties to work themselves out.

We are a generation that loves ourselves and we are very demanding of our own rights. In our little compact boxes, walled in, and no doubt listening to our own soundtrack, we become self obsessed. Our perspective of life narrows and we believe that everybody should move to our tune and we have the right to do what it takes to get us to our destination on time at the cost of everybody else. It is our right. It is all about us.

Our self obsession causes us to have disrespect for others. We lose sight of the fact that driving is not a solo activity. For roads to work most efficiently and safely we need to recognise that driving is a communal thing. For it to be a communal thing we need to show respect for our fellow road users and also show some peripheral vision as to what might be happening around us. 

When we sneak out and get stuck across a junction, when we jump a red light, when we attempt a reckless manoeuvre and when we drive faster than the speed limits, we are not considering the safety of our fellow human beings but risking the lives of others for our own punctual gain. It is good to remember the power of the machinery that we do all of this with. We are literally playing out our self indulgence in killing machines.

The carnage has reached a point where I felt it was important to not only pray for those families in mourning but also challenge us as a community of believers in Fitzroy to consider how we live out Jesus command to “love our neighbour as ourselves” in our cars. The apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to “in humility value others above yourselves”. Back to Jesus and how does “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” look on the roads? 

This following of Jesus in our driving should help to mould another culture on our roads. Car travel could be seen as the journeys between important meetings and important acts of service and mission in our places of work, living and Church. We need to see roads as another front line where it is of utmost urgency to live out an alternative way. Our lives might just actually depend upon it… the lives of other too.


WHERE THE SPIRIT MEETS THE BONE - A GEM OF WISDOM FROM LUCINDA WILLIAMS

Spirit Meets The Bone 2

"You do not know 

What wars are going on down there 

Where the spirit meets the bone 

Down there where the spirit meets the bone 

Down there where the spirit meets the bone"

Lucinda Williams new record Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone is a stunner of a record. Sprawling over two discs it is jam packed with Williams best songs in a while, made even better by the tastiest of blues guitar playing. As if that is not enough to wax lyrical about there is wonderful songs of spiritual insight. The title track is one of those songs.

Taken from a saying  by Williams’ poet father, Miller Williams, this for me is a pastoral gem of wisdom. As human beings we can be quick to judge others and most of our judgements are very one dimensional in our critique. We see what is on the surface of someone’s behaviour and react quickly. Often times we haven’t the painful privilege of knowing what is going on in the other dimensions of the persons life.

Stephen R Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People wrote about a man whose children were running riot in a train carriage. The other person in the carriage loses patience and asks the father if he could do something about his children. The father then apologises explaining that they have just come from the hospital where the children’s mother had just died; he was a little distracted. 

That is where the spirit meets the bone. The one dimensional didn’t reveal that. Lucinda Williams’ song is one we should all listen to and hear the invaluable advice therein. How many times did Jesus look beyond the situation to diagnose the real issue at the heart of individuals and humanity? 

For everyone you listen to 

Have compassion 

Even if they don’t want it 

Even if it seems cynicism 

Is always a sign 

Always a sign 

Always a sign 

 

Always a sign of things no ears have heard 

Always a sign of things no eyes have seen


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 19.10.14

Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning in Fitzroy (11am) we will be having a Family Service with a Harvest theme. Expect a little lost Nemo being found and a lot of Thanksgiving with some fresh worship from our neest young worship band!

In the evening (7pm) we are into the third in our series of evenings on How To Read The Bible. Stephen McIlwaine has given us an overview of the Biblical story and looked the different ways we need to read the different genres of Scripture in the light of that overall story. You don't need to have been to the first two in the series to benefit from tomorrow night as Stephen helps us will look at the Old Testament Law.  Ridiculed, misquoted and misapplied today, the Law was nevertheless given by God himself, and was of central importance to the life of Old Testament Israel, and to the Bible's authors.  It was much discussed in the New Testament, as the apostles sought to understand its relevance to the Gentile church.  We will look at the purpose of Israel's Law, the effect it could have had on Israelite society, and its relevance for us today as a revelation of the nature of God. 


AN EVENING OF PERFORMANCES AND THEOLOGICAL THOUGHTS ON U2'S SONGS OF INNOCENCE

Songs Of Innocence cover

PERFORMANCES AND THEOLOGICAL THOUGHTS ON U2’S SONGS OF INNOCENCE

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 9th 2014 @ 7pm

FITZROY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

(Free - with voluntary collection for building projects at Fitzroy and in Uganda)

U2’s new record Songs Of Innocence is causing reaction on a whole range of fronts. After launching the album free on iTunes the vinyl and CD hard copies were released this week and can be bought in the traditional way. They are all over the media particularly the BBC where this weeks Radio 1 Jo Wiley Show and last night’s Graham Norton show featured interviews and performances.

As a biographer of U2 (Steve Stockman - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 made #99 on Amazon chartwho concentrated on their spiritual journey I am gleaning a lot of theological thought from the lyrics of Songs Of Innocence:-

I woke up at the moment

When the miracle occurred

I get so many things I don’t deserve

 - The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

 

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

 

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

 

For me this is U2’s best song writing in the classic sense of the tradition. It is also the album where Bono seems to have taken most care over the lyrics. The record is filled with wee theological nuggets like the above. And… there is more… having decided to return to their younger years for inspiration there are stories throughout this album that became the foundation for the band’s career and spiritual journey. The death of Bono’s mum (Iris (Hold Me Close)); a UVF Bomb in Dublin (Raised By Wolves); a punk concert (The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)); and a neighbourhood family (Cedarwood Road).

On November 9th in Fitzroy we will unpack the theological thoughts and spiritual journey of U2. We are blessed with many fine musicians and singers in Fitzroy. Four of the artists performing have made albums - Chris Wilson, Dave Thompson, Caroline Orr and Peter Greer. We will be taking U2 at their word and proving that the songs on this album are so classic in their songwriting that they can be done acoustic. The heart of the evening will be based around five songs from Songs Of Innocence but there will be other U2 songs too. I will then weave thoughts between  in an evening that will do much more than entertain, though entertain it will!


HOZIER'S TAKE ME TO CHURCH AND PHILIP YANCEY'S VANISHING GRACE

Hozier

“Take me to church

I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life”

 

Hozier’s Take Me To Church, as opposed to Sinead O’Connor’s song of the same name, was not very positive about what I do for a living; I am the minister of a Church! Hozier is from County Wicklow and it seems that a little disillusioned with Catholicism his parents brought him up Quaker. Though not altogether dismissive of the Quaker experience, Hozier spoke in a recent Hot Press interview about the song being about the Church “undermining humanity”. The chorus is about somewhere that does not affirm us but belittles and damns us. I found it difficult listening and, immediately on the defensive, dismissed Hozier as another opponent of Christianity. 

As this was going on in my mind, and Hozier was being hailed as some new songwriting genius, I started reading Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace; Whatever Happened To The Good News and found myself chastised by Yancey’s call to show grace to those who believe different things from us. Yancey particularly mentions the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. Yancey tells the story of how graceless Christians sent Christopher Hitchens letters telling him his cancer was God’s judgement and that he would burn in hell whereas the leading American Scientist Francis Collins who was also a Christian, and received abuse from new atheists as a result of his faith, made many visits to Hitchens in the last months of his life and garnered much praise from Hitchens as “our most selfless Christian physician”. What a testimony of grace!

Vanishing Grace

Yancey is encouraging us to engage in warm grace centred relationship where we seek common ground in our humanity with those who would seem to oppose us and our faith. He also talks about listening to their critique, to not only understand where they are coming from, but also to hear what we can humbly repent of in their critique. 

Hozier’s Take Me To Church could be a soundtrack to how Philip Yancey critiques a Church where grace has all but vanished to be replaced with judgement, exclusion and arrogant self righteousness. As Hozier says we often “undermine humanity”. Part of me wonders whether Yancey’s book, pertinent for our age in general, might not be also a timely response to the Mark Driscoll-like harshness of recent years. I remember my friend who was looking after his son while his wife did a Masters in Theology telling me the adjectives Driscoll used to abuse my friend’s life as a stay at home dad. So many other crude and hurtful damnations have been a little too fashionable from evangelical podiums in recent years. Yancey’s antidotal book is the fresh breeze of the Spirit blowing through!

We need to listen and hear songs like Hozier's. We need also to be grace connecting in our responses. What a surprise that when I was looking up Hozier’s lyrics, for this blog while listening to U2 on Radio 1’s Jo Wiley Show, that Bono chose Take Me To Church for Jo to play. Bono’s gracious and connecting Christian response to the song was, "it's a miracle of a song... this is a sacred talent”. Ah, grace hasn’t vanished completely, just yet!


THE COMPELLING VERB - BLOG SIZE SERMON

Verb

 

(click here to listen to the entire sermon)

Grammar is full of verbs. I googled and found:

Auxiliary verbs. Lexical Verbs. Dynamic Verbs. Stative Verbs. Finite Verbs. Non finite Verbs. Regular verbs. Irregular verbs. Transitive verbs. Intransitive verbs. Causative verbs. Copular verbs. Performative verbs.  

And I thought that it was simple - a verb was simply a “doing word”. 

My family are used to me making up words. Many conversations and I will just create my own adjectives or verbs. Some linger. I think some of my old staff still use “shadongadin” on eof my made up exclamations! 

This last weekend I created a new theological phrase - Grace; The Compelling Verb. At a recent Tearfund event I used John Mayer’s lyric “When you show me love/I don't need your words/Yeah love ain't a thing/Love is a verb/Love ain't a thing/Love is a verb.” I also used the tumble turn of the swimmer bringing out the double reflex of grace. As soon as you receive God’s grace you tumble turn into becoming a grace giver. (read that related blog THE DOUBLE REFLEX OF GRACE here...)

My current sermon series is based around Mark Greene’s book Fruitfulness On The Front Line. Greene has 6 Ms that he feels will make the Christian effective on the front lines of our lives. The third M is ‘ministering love and grace’. Greene points out that Jesus din’t have to give sight to the blind or heal the lame or feed the 5,000. He didn’t have to but grace compelled him. God didn’t have to be born in a manger, live among humans, die on a cross or be raised to life again. God’s grace was a compelling verb. 

So with the follower of Jesus. The double reflex, the fruit of the Spirit… we don’t have to… but grace is a compelling verb. Grace conjures two words; generosity and forgiveness. On our front lines, in family, work, neighbourhood and society we are connection with grace compels us to be generous and forgiving to all we meet and engage with.

Philip Yancey’s new book seems to me to be an important work for the time. He is suggesting that Christianity’s decline might be as a result of our lacking generosity and forgiveness. Here’s the blurb -  

How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society? And how can they make a difference in a world of such wrenching need? Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News is a milestone book for all those who are striving to make sense of their faith and live it out amid the changing landscape of our day. Philip explores how Christians may have contributed to hostility toward them by presenting the gospel in ways that come across as strident and judgemental. Then he explores what kind of news is good to a culture that thinks it has rejected the Christian version. And finally, he offers illuminating stories of how faith can be expressed in ways that disarm even the most cynical critics - through pilgrims, activists, and artists rather than through preachers, evangelists, and apologists. 

I will blog much more about Yancey’s book in the coming weeks. In the meantime let us live out the compelling verb of grace in all we do or say. Desmond Tutu has said, “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Let’s do it! 

 


IRELAND IN THE WORLD CUP/EITHER NORTH OR SOUTH; GARY LIGHTBODY, FOOTBALL AND PEACE

Gary shirt

“Ireland in the World Cup

EIther North or South”

 - Snow Patrol - Lifening

“I am a proud Northern Ireland fan but I love the Rep of Ireland too. I have no politics nor religion. Just love.” 

   – Gary Lightbody Tweet

To follow Snow Patrol singer, Gary Lightbody’s Twitter support of both Irish soccer teams is the simplest of gestures but one which I believe makes you an active societal peacemaker. I once agreed to have coffee with an American student who seemed to have contrived a dissertation linking sport and reconciliation in Northern Ireland to gain the funding for a wee trip overseas! Having thought that I would have little to contribute to a threadbare hypothesis I agreed to have coffee.

Within seconds I was into the vast deep confusion of the intentional and unintentional segregation that is Irish sport. Soccer used to be frowned upon in the Republic Of Ireland as a foreign sport; many older folk will share how they were banned from playing it. Gaelic sports is predominantly Catholic and for many years refused to allow members who belonged to the British security forces.  Rugby has been played at international level as a united team but very few of the northerners on that team would be Catholics as their schools prefer Gaelic to Rugby; a new neutral anthem was written to unite players! Catholics and Protestants can in general be divided into whether they support Glasgow soccer teams Celtic and Rangers; the shirts of these two teams could let you know what side of the city you are in.  

In Belfast itself Protestants cheer Linfield and Glentoran and Catholics offer allegiance to Cliftonville. When these teams play tensions have historically run high. When it comes to the international soccer teams Protestants in general support Northern Ireland and Catholics the Republic. Catholic Neil Lennon had death threatens from Protestant paramilitaries when he played for the North. Many Catholic players have recently renounced the country of their birth to commit to playing for the Republic. Everything is political and sectarian.

So Lightbody’s throwaway Tweet and that lyric on the song Lifening from Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires, “Ireland in the World Cup/Either North or South”  are prophetic statements of reconciliation. Sport is a very powerful to set division. A pair of Rangers or Celtic slippers at 3 years of age or a shirt at 7 years of age can birth your lifetime sectarianism. Sport also gives very easy ways to cross historical boundaries and defuse the old divisions though even then some courage is needed. I have been known to follow Gaelic sport, at least when it comes to All Ireland Finals etc and wear my Antrim shirt proudly though without much hope of success. Wearing that shirt disturbs and yet can make people think and allow connections across old boundaries. I also refused to support any teams with sectarian allegiance and am like Lightbody proud to support either north or south. If they met in the final Gary who will we cheer; come on the wee north! 

Last night both North and South did incredibly well. I was watching the wee North shouting with joy as Kyle Lafferty put us 2 up against the top seeds in our group, Greece! Three wins in our first three games; dream land! On the iPad I was sneaking glances at the Republic’s match with World Champions Germany. The German goal deflated me but very late on I glanced back and saw John O’Shea running away with his arms in the air. Had they? Surely not? YES! Double joy. Many in my country are either north or south, many holding allegiance with segregated hatred. Rory McIlroy was getting grief on Twitter for only celebrating the North's win! I am Northern Irish but I love both countries and feel an affinity across the island. I call my space the Venn Diagram. On nights like last night it is a double blessing. What about “Ireland in the Euros/Both north and south.” Gary Lightbody would be past himself. Me too!


A BELFAST AT PEACE WITH ITSELF - WHAT ARE OUR POLITICAL PARTIES PROPOSING

Peace

What are our politicians doing to mke Belfast a city at peace with itself? The Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship thought it was a about time they were asked. So, on Wednesday October 15th at 7pm in Clonard Monastery we will start a series of events to ask Sinn Fein, Alliance, DUP, UUP, SDLP and PUP what they all propose should happen to make a peaceful Belfast.

The Clonard/Fitzroy fellowship is over 30 years old and has made many contributions to peace and reconciliation across our land. The relationship between Fitzroy minister Ken Newell and Fr. Gerry Reynolds from Clonard former a deep friendship that drew their fellowships together. That Fr Alec Reid, also from Clonard, following Jesus inspiration to be a peacemaker became the architect of the negotiations that led to the ceasefires, put the Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship in the front line of peacemaking. In 1999 the Fellowship were winners of the Pax Christ Peace Prize for their contribution to peace in N. Ireland.

The political peace we now have is not the end of that process. We are aware on a daily basis that that political peace needs to be deepened into societal peace. That is what has inspired this new series. Let us ask those with political influence what they are suggesting as a way forward for societal peace. 

Each evening will give two parties the opportunity to share their thoughts and then be open to questions. Each party will have one hour with light refreshments as a little sorbet between presentations. In the the first in the series we will be hearing from Sinn Fein and Alliance. Keep your eye out for the next two evenings to be confirmed soon!

EVERYBODY WELCOME!


STEVIE NICKS - 24 KARAT GOLD; SONGS FROM THE VAULT

24 Karat Gold

There was a time when Stevie Nicks could do no wrong. When her Tom Petty written and Heartbreakers’ backed Stop Dragging My Heart Around launched her first solo record in 1981 she was the undisputed Queen of Rock and one of my favourite artists. The solo stuff that has followed down three decades got a little predictable and pedestrian. 24 Karat Gold - Songs From The Vault might be her best album since that debut Bella Donna.

This record is made up of the re-workings of songs Nicks had written between 1969 and 1987 and though all very much stamped with the Nicks’ brand sound there is a variety of musical hues that has been a little lacking in her back catalogue. Cathouse Blues is a smoky jazz with a load of humour. Lady has a gentle sparse piano ripple. Blue Water makes more waves even in its lyric. The closing co-write with Mark Knopfler She Loves Him Still even has a wee Irish whistle lilt. I Don’t Care is a dirty rock blues that benefits from an aforementioned Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s guitar. 

 Indeed guitars are all over these old songs made new. Whether Campbell or Elton John companion Davey Johnstone or Dave Stewart or the man who I surmise might make this album so sweet for me, Waddy Wachtel whose work with Linda Ronstadt along with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty got me into West Coast rock back in 1977. My surmise is that more Watchtel on this record has me more interested! Certainly the Stevie Nicks solo album that has caught my attention most since 81 and the only one that has since ’83!


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 12.10.14

Fitzroy Front

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we continue to look at our fruitfulness on the front lines of our lives. Our title is The Compelling Verb and we will be seeing how John Mayer got something right with his Love Is A Verb song. We will hopefully be equally challenged and inspired that the double reflex of God's grace sends us out to be ministers of grace and love. This series has been an envisioner for me as to what ordinary lives can do in ordinary ways to make extraordinary chnages in our world. Tomorrow morning we will also be hearing about our exciting new porject in North West Uganda where we will be building a school with Fields Of Life. We are delighted to have Ednar Nyakaiski, their East African Head of Operations and Richard Spratt their Chief Executive Officer. EXCITING!

In the evening (7pm) we welcome the Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. October 10th was World Mental Health Day and we remembered that The facts are that 350 million people worldwide of all ages are affected by Depression. We will ask what Church and society are doing to respond. We will have author Tony Macauley by Skype from his American Tour, the Deputy Mayor of Belfast, a play from Tiger's Bay actors, SPUD delegates from the PCI General Assembly and Mogue Lawless, Downing St Award Winner for work in arts and mental health! BUMPER NIGHT!