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February 2016

January 2016



Lucinda Williams Ghosts

We used to wait a longtime between Lucinda Williams records. Now she brings them out almost prolifically and this is the second in a row that is too long for just one CD. Ghosts is set in a particular place; Highway 20. Perhaps a few lines from Doors Of Heaven give the best clue to what is going on:

Open up the doors of heaven, let me in

I think I'm finally tired of living, let me in

I'm gonna walk in the glory and tell everyone my story

Open up the doors of heaven, let me in

Mixing blues and folk and Gospel like she always has with perhaps a little more space in the arrangements this time Williams deal with mortality, heartache and a search for faith. The closing Faith and Grace is outstanding!



Bowie Black Star

Bowie’s swan song released on his birthday, two days before he dies. Black Star is another  challenging Bowie listen as it feeds off modern jazz. It’s more futuristic Bowie. After his death the record took on a whole new perspective as it suddenly seems to be an artist creating farewell art. That in the final video he backs into a wardrobe, echoing CS Lewis’s entrance to Narnia, as the end of a song called Lazarus that starts, “Look up here, I’m in heaven” gave me some thoughtful wrestlings!



BC Hope Is Our Lightning

In my Soul Surmise review I wrote : -

Burning Codes make music that has your soul dancing on the beams the sun casts, bouncing on the sparkles that shine from love. You can tell that the band’s playlists are weighed towards The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine but they have managed to create a sound that is very much their own. Crisp guitar riffs, taut bass grooves and precise authoritative beats gives these songs a tight uplifting rock hit to the kardia! It makes them much more melodic, anthemic and accessible than any of those aforementioned heroes.

read my full review here


MERCYLAND: Hymns For The Rest Of Us VOLUME 2

Mercyland 2

Multi instrumentalist, songwriter and just all round nice guy, Phil Madeira felt there was a little lack in the modern worship industry in his hometown Nashville. He wanted spiritual songs with a little more bite. So, he gathered some top American acts to help create hymns for the rest of us. Volume 2 sees Emmylou Harris back on the credits and this time Trent Dabs, the McCrary Sisters, David Crowder and former Civil War’s man John Paul White bring their craft and voices to a great collection of companions for the journey.



Thin places! It is a thought from Celtic Christianity. There are some spaces where the gap between heaven and earth are thinner. Last night I found myself in one of the very thinnest places I have ever been. That it was in a Monastery was not lost on me. 

The first Catholic Church I was ever in was in Shanghai. I had been brought up suspicious of Catholicism. I remember sitting in a very beautiful building in China and asking God if he really wasn’t here. I sensed that he was and secretly carried that thought back home to Antrim. If there was ever any doubt that I was correct in that theological turning point in China in 1990 then it was overwelmingly confirmed in Clonard Monastery during Nua, a joint event of 4 Corners Festival, along with 24/7 Prayer, Evangelical Alliance and Summer Madness. 

Perhaps key to the blessing that made the space thin was that this was not a contrived event. This was not about people getting together to have a nice evening that told the city we didn’t hate each other. There wasn’t any ecumenical strategy. It was much bigger than that. More subversive. More transformative.

This was a gang of Jesus followers, from across Christian denominations who were looking at the context that they live in and opening themselves up to God, believing that God wants his grace and mercy to have its effects on that context. The context for us all this year is 1916 and the events of that year that have shaped what our community looks like in 2016. So, what if we took 100 days to pray and open ourselves up to God, for those 100 years of history? What might happen to us? What might happen to our country and island? Check out

As I welcomed the gang of outlaws at the door I was amazed at what was happening. Nuns and older priests, middle age and ageing Protestant leaders from a variety of denominations and organisations as well as young charismatics. When Jasper Rutherford asked how many were in Clonard for the first time it was perhaps more than 50%.

This was a prophetic event before it even began. That so many Protestants would feel comfortable to come to Clonard to pray and not one protester outside. Let us realise how far we have come. As the bloody divisions slowly heal on the streets and in politics one of the most potent resources for societal peace will be a Church at peace that can be a contributor to the kind of Shalom that the Bible yearns for and, indeed, anticipates.

There was a more than symbolic moment early on when Ed Petersen from Clonard, a member of the 4 Corners Festival committee, read from the Bible of Fr Gerry Reynolds who sadly passed away on November 30th. This was what Fr Gerry prayed for for most of his 80 years. He would have loved this. His part in should not be underestimated. Ken Newell described Fr Gerry, at the funeral, as a radiator installer. The room was spiritually warm tonight.

One of the many great lies that has caused the religious war to continue raging in N. Ireland is that it is all about the Pope conning us into Rome by some sneaky back door. Most lies are utterly unbelievable when you think about them. Tonight was not about some ecclesiastical conformity. It was about the joy and enriching of diversity. Such events have as many moments of discomfort as wonderful moment of joy. 

I am sure some were unfamiliar, and even a little uneasy, about the modern worship, no doubt too repetitive for a few. Then the silences might be new discipline for others. The sharing of the peace can be a little stilted for many. Sadly, I am even aware of one or two who were so put off by the noise of the early part of the evening that they missed moments that they would have revelled in. That sharing of the peace was one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life.

So this was not about us all agreeing in some inane form of unity. It was a more robust coming together. This was about a myriad of people of all ages, background and faith journeys being so committed to Jesus that they are up for transcending the differences to pray for the land. This Kingdom thing is bigger than our own little corners and last night when we held hands around the beautiful Clonard Monastery and looked each other in the eye as we prayed beyond ourselves for that Kingdom coming, I touched that Kingdom already arriving. The big and artistically beautiful Church was electric in the most spiritually serene way. It was a very thin place.


Fitzroy building

Tomorrow morning, Fitzroy begins at the much earlier time of 10.15 and more important than that we have to be in our seats at 9.45. The children will go straight to their Sunday groups before the service. 

Tomorrow we are the BBC Radio Ulster Morning Service. However, it is not a Fitzroy service. It is a 4 Corners Festival service. The theme for this year’s Festival is The Art Of Listening and we have invited Rev Heather Morris, former President of the Methodist Church, to unpack that from Scripture. We will be praying for the 4 corners of Belfast, there will be vibrant worship by Michael Dolaghan and his merry band and David Thompson and Shannon Clements will be singing. 

We would love it if you could be with us BUT if you cannot listen in on Radio Ulster…

Tomorrow evening we are back to our usual time of 7pm. This will be the final part of our three part series in the Psalms which we have done in very creative, reflective and worshipful ways. It has been an informative series that has touched the head, heart and soul. If you haven’t been at the first two do not that put you off. 


Half Way House

District 6 is a green gash in the middle of Cape Town. In 1966 the white apartheid government declared it a white area and brought bulldozers in, flattening the houses and shops and sending the black and coloured residents out onto the townships of the Cape Flats. It is a shocking tale of injustice.

On the first of my many trips to the District 6 Museum I rushed to the little bookshop to grab a history of the place. Nothing! There are novels, plays, poetry books, photographic books, biographies and even a fascinating programme to The Public Sculpture Project but nothing more concrete (did I really use that word).

I was fascinated with this approach in dealing with history. We in Northern Ireland are right in the middle of the dilemma as how to deal with our past. I started to ponder if art was a better way to unpack it than in a history book of blame. 

Philip Orr’s play Halfway House helped convince me that there is something in this. In our year of 1916 Centenaries, there will be much talk and discussion, debate and argument. It is important that we look back at such crucial events as the Easter Rising and The Somme to find out what shaped us into who we are today. However, how we look might be as crucial as what we look at!

What Orr does with this play is give the historical facts flesh and blood. He humanises The Easter Rising and The Somme and the consequent events. We need to remember that we don’t jump from 1916 to 1969 or 1998 or 2016. After those dominos fell one hundred years ago, they tipped more to fall. There was a continuing story.

So, two women meet in 1966, halfway between then and now, in The Half Way House Pub on the Glenshane Pass. They are caught in a snow storm and, taking shelter around the fire, they share their lives. They find out that they are from the same town. Their families know each other. There have been interconnections. Yet, two very different lives are lived in the very same place. 

There is the uneasiness of finding out they are from different sides of the community and their discussion about family, loved ones and particularly fathers lead them into uncomfortable conversations about The Somme, The Easter Rising, the immediate legacy and how both families might commemorate those events 50 years on. 

The two actors Louise Parker and Antoinette Morelli are brilliant engaging the audience from start to finish with just a conversation. They show the tenderness, frustration, anger and at moments empathy and sadness. They shine many lights onto our history both in the information about the era and insightful commentary too.

I was impressed by Orr’s particular genius with this play in the breadth of audience in the house. In Fitzroy, where I watched, there was a wide range of political affiliations in the room. I have heard that in other places even wider. None of those affiliations would have left feeling that their side of the 1916 story was given a bad press nor would any have felt the other side’s story was unfair. If any had ears to hear then there was a lot of helpful listening. 

Listening is of course the theme for this year’s 4 Corners Festival. At the Festival we will be putting on Philip Orr’s other work about 1916, Stormont House Rules. Where Halfway House was set in 1966 this one is up to do date. It is more of another dramatic reading debate and will be a little more vociferous but will again be an artistic way to engage with historic events. It might open a door in our souls.

KEN NEWELL: CAPTURED BY A VISION - 4 Corners Festival 2016

Ken Newell 16


On the wagon

Always frightened of falling off.


It could happen at any time

A quick shift in the journey

A bump in the road

A sudden curve not seen

Mind always alert

Eyes always focused

Heart always steeled

Soul always tuned.



Never cured

Always susceptible

Too easily prone

To lose control

Damage self

And destroy all those around me.



On the wagon

Always frightened of falling off.


Recovering Sectarian.

That phrase Recovering Sectarian was minted by my predecessor at Fitzroy, Rev Dr. Ken Newell. He has brought much wisdom theological and political to the peace process in Northern Ireland. All of that wisdom has come in the context of the maturing of his own spiritual life and the grace saturated relationships that he has formed. For me, the greatest challenge of Ken’s life has been watching him show grace to everybody including those who were showing least grace towards him.

Ken is the speaker at Monday evening’s (Feb 1st 2016) 4 Corner’s Festival event at St. Patrick’s Church on Donegal Street. This is a Church that we all know well. It is often in the news as it is the place that some loyalist bands heighten their venom and sound as they pass by. That 4 Corner’s Festival chose that venue, for Ken Newell to share something from his up and coming memoir Captured By A Vision, was not by accident.

Ken Newell was a former Orange Lodge Chaplain who ended up being awarded the Pax Christi Peace Prize. Pax Christi International makes it a point to honour men and women who stand up for peace, justice, and non-violence across the globe. It is a Catholic Peace Movement and Ken Newell was the first Protestant to receive the prize! 

It will be poignant that Ken does his talk just two months after the death of Fr Gerry Reynolds from Clonard Monastery. The Pax Christi Prize was jointly awarded to them or their contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

We are back to what I said earlier in this blog. Fr Gerry and Ken made theological contributions to the religious war between Catholics and Protestants which rages quietly under the conflict on our streets. They made a real political contribution to the political peace that we now benefit from. They were negotiators in the bringing together of political parties and the paramilitaries.

Yet, it was all rooted in their friendship. Ronald Wells book about the pair was perfectly named, Friendship Towards Peace. 

On Monday night we will no doubt hear about the journey going on in Ken Newell’s soul to hone him into such a peacemaker. How did God shift his perspectives and give him a vision of what he could do to bring the full impact of the Gospel onto the streets of a bloody violent Northern Ireland? 

Ken is a captivating speaker with a captivating story. He has influenced my life greatly. He has shown me an example of how to follow Jesus in a divided society. He has resourced my thinking with great wisdom, always well spoken. He has encouraged me to be more courageous to do what I believe to be right, even when those around me would suggest I am wrong.

So come along and hear how a man who once marched in a Lodge outside St. Patrick’s now speaks inside St. Patrick’s about a Christlike vision that can capture us all.

Recovering Sectarians welcome!

LISTENING IS CLOSE TO LOVING... - Radio Ulster Thought For The Day 27.1.16

  More Than A Flag Jason

A few months ago I caught the BBC documentary More Than A Flag, part of the series True North. The first thing I heard was a young man, driving through East Belfast, saying, “My favourite day of the year is the Twelfth.” I expected the stereotypical and almost switched over. I am glad I didn’t. 

The documentary followed playwright Dan Gordon as he produced a play with some young bandsmen from East Belfast. A few of the men share their thoughts about bands, flags, the Somme and Northern Ireland. 

What moved me most were the words of a young bandsman. There is a scene where he sitting in his garden and he says, “you associate flutes with a band… bands are bad or so they say… they're not… when you get to know them…” There is sadness in his eyes, as his voice tails off.

The late Rev. Tom Wilson, who had been a social worker before he was a minister once told me that the closest thing to love is to be listened to. I know that in myself. When someone listens to you, it is like a hug or a kiss. You feel valued… loved. When we try to follow Jesus command to love our neighbours… and more than that our enemies… we can start by listening.

We haven’t been good at loving our neighbours or enemies in Northern Ireland. It has been tragic in its consequences. We are good at talking, prone to shouting, we love preaches and speeches. When Bono sings, “it’s hard to listen while you preach” he was on to something.

My good friend, Fr Martin Magill goes on about how we need more Keynote Listeners then Keynote Speakers. So, this years the 4 Corners Festival that we both help organise is all about listening. Listening to our history with the 1916 Centenaries, listening to our streets, listening to the new members of our society, listening to songs of Belfast, listening to young men and women in both sides of our divided society who feel misunderstood, not listened to, unloved.  

Loving our neighbours… and enemies… by listening… 

More Than A Flag will be shown in The Long Room, Stormont on Friday, February 5th at 7pm with the Directors, Dan Gordon and some of the bandsmen speaking… free…



Hannah Launch

“It’s a mess

It’s a start

It’s a flawed work of art

Your city, your call

Every crack, every wall”

Last Friday morning at the Press launch of the 4 Corners Festival, in the brand new Girdwood Community Hub, singer Hannah McPhillimy sang these words. Hannah is one of the contributors  to 4 Corners Festival event Songs Of The City where artists will sing an original song and a cover song written about Belfast (Saturday Feb 6th at Duncairn Art and Cultural Centre). McPhillimy added an original keyboard version, reshaping chords and sending us other angles into the anthem that was, she said making us all feel old, all over the radio when she was at school!

When she sang these words she arrowed them gently but deep into my heart.  “I love this city tonight/I love this city always” was patently obvious to me from the reaction I was having at the core of my being. This is the Belfast that I love and that 4 Corners Festival is praying to bring together… “mess… start… flawed work of art.”

When Take Back The City was the lead off single on Snow Patrol’s A Hundred Million Suns it was is a bit of a departure. Up until then Gary Lightbody was writing about romance, mostly the melancholy side. In a Q magazine, at the time of the single’s release,  Lightbody explained that the song is about his home city of Belfast which he has learned to fall in love with all over again. When Lightbody left for University in Dundee at the beginning of the nineties Belfast was a besieged city. 

There were a couple of years when every road into the city had police checks and people were being shot almost daily. By the time Lightbody returned, around 2005, the city had had a decade without bombs and bullets; it was a place revived with new shopping centres, city centre bars and clubs and music venues big enough for Snow Patrol’s success. Just like its returning sons, Belfast is thriving!

Though the negative side of Northern Ireland’s conflict haunts Take Back The City it is a song about loving the city, enjoying the city and reshaping the city. Lightbody sings about the broken record of entrenched political sectarianism and about the futility of picking sides in a historical fight he doesn’t understand. The main thrust of Lightbody’s ode to home though is about sucking the marrow out of the city, sometimes admitting to partying too much. Where I have personally been inspired is in the verse:

“God knows you put your life into its hands 

And it's both cradled you and crushed 

But now it's time to make your own demands.”

I am sure Gary Lightbody does not have the same missional intent as those of us who organised the 4 Corners Festival but this is a very interesting take on our relationship with our home cities, towns or villages. The city shapes us, cradles and crushes us into the adults we become but after that we are the shapers of the city. Our task as the Churches is to engage with our city as “World Formative Christians” to take a phrase from theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff.  

Hearing Hannah McPhillimy’s beautiful and poignant cover of Take Back This City reminded me that the city that I live in, that is the very subject of this song, has made me who I am... now to make it what we in the Churches believe it should look like when “God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that the 4 Corners Festival has and will begin to help us all to take back the city!

SALT AND LIGHT - Someone's Reflection on My Sermon for Week of Prayer For Christian Unity

Salt And Light 2016

On The Week of Prayer For Christian Unity 2016 I had the privilege of being asked to speak at the Ballycastle Churches’ event. The theme was Salt and Light and I asked many questions of the Churches and the followers of Jesus, attempting to inspire us to be salt and light in Northern Ireland, making us the peacemakers we are called to be in the Gospels. 

One of the congregation Christine Mitchell is a poet and wrote this. It is a summary of the night in phrases I preached. I leave it without anymore commentary. Listen… 


An interruption of Grace

What do we see?


Let us feel the earth shake

And know that a change

Is happening.


Herod knew ......

The shepherds knew


An interruption of grace

What do we see?

What do we feel?


we must gather  

And learn

The fruits 

Of the lessons

On our journey


Lessons of 

...the Samaritan Woman

...Zaccheus up the tree

Lessons gathered

As we journey

To Calvary.


Touched by salt and light

And interruptions of grace


Be aware of a change

.....the presence of God.


Take time

To create 



Friendship transforms


Friendship ......

towards peace

...journey out of conflict

...let friendship unfold and become



Interruptions of grace


Like salt in an open wound

Let the truth sting

For healing

And let light shine

To bring hope and redemption

Restoration of life and hope


Let us be changed in prayer

....say Amen.....

And help God to answer

The prayers we have prayed.


We have the power

To be friends

With God and one another.


Thank you Christine.


BC Hope Is Our Lightning

Back in the day, almost 20 years ago, Paul Archer’s first band Disraeli Gears had a song called Come Out Into The Sunshine. (as a side note Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody confessed on the sleeve notes of their best of album Up To Now that he stole drummer Jonny Quinn when Disraeli Gears shared the bill Snow Patrol in Belfast!) Archer was an intense young man and his DM boots and mohican hair style clad a stare that could be dramatic and a little intimidating! When he reached out from the stage and sang at you it might have been the most frightening of invitations you ever had to come out into the sunshine. 

Almost two decades later and Archer is fronting Burning Codes with exactly the same intensity and what Our Hope Is Lightning does is to take you right out into that sunshine. Burning Codes make music that has your soul dancing on the beams the sun casts, bouncing on the sparkles that shine from love. You can tell that the band’s playlists are weighed towards The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine but they have managed to create a sound that is very much their own. Crisp guitar riffs, taut bass grooves and precise authoritative beats gives these songs a tight uplifting rock hit to the kardia! It makes them much more melodic, anthemic and accessible than any of those aforementioned heroes. 

As my review suggests I have been a fan of Paul Archer’s work for even longer back than the four previous Burning Code’s records. What strikes me most about this one is Archer’s voice. Goodness has that matured and come across with more authority than ever before. 

Don’t think that the dancing on sun beams means that this is light and happy clappy. I have told you about Archer’s intensity. He works in the mental health field and these songs particularly The Road dig deep into the marrow of the soul, searching, probing, pondering and meditating on what makes the human being tick. Archer’s introspective honesty features throughout, note particularly Journey Into Love. Yet everywhere there is hope; love is the redemptive source. 

Archer’s brother Iain, who guests on guitar, is up for a Grammy next month for his co-write with James Bay, Hold Back The River, but if he writes anything more hypnotically beautiful this year than She’s The Only One For Me or Got Love he’ll be a happy songwriter. 

When Gary Lightbody tries to make amends for stealing his drummer and endorses the album with “Breathtaking it kicks redemptive ass” He ain’t wrong!



Goodness. I don’t know if I can do this. This is a courageous Pause For Thought, confessing your guilty pleasures on national radio. I might feel the humiliation more than most. You see I have been Chief Constable of the Guilty Pleasure Police for some years. I have bullied people into sharing their guilty pleasure songs, made them feel bad. 

You see I do have a belief that the music we listen to can be healthy for the soul or make the soul flabby, unfit and ineffective. Like our food diet. Too much cheese or too many sweets can make us unhealthy. So too with our listening habits. 

So when I was University Chaplain I used to see my students walking towards me with their head phones in. When they reached me, and went through that brand new ritual of removing them to say hello, I would ask what song they were listening to. After a while I would see the consternation in their shifty eyes as they approached me. I would see them fumble for a song that would seem a little more soul healthy than Take That or One Direction! I think some of them lied. 

So… let me close my eyes and say this quickly. Over Christmas I was been listening to... Justin Bieber! Whaaat! Did I just say that on the BBC. My daughters made me do it! Honest!

Anyway the song that has had my attention was of course one with a healthy message. The title track of Bieber’s new record is Purpose. That I even know that feels wrong! Anyway, that particular song is a song of spiritual redemption for Justin Beiber who set his Christian faith aside in recent years for a pretty wild life that has been all over the press. Recently he has been finding himself again and this key component to that new sense of well being has been finding his purpose; being who God has made him to be. Purpose. It is so important for all of our well being. Bieber calls it the best gift. He finds it in God, in grace and forgiveness. 

I put my heart into your hands

Learn the lessons you teach

No matter what, wherever I am

You're not hard to reach

And you've given me the best gift

That I've ever known

You give me purpose everyday

You give me purpose in every way

Now that’s powerful spiritual truth that might actually disqualify it as a guilty pleasure… but I did listen to the rest of the record. But not much. Honest. Now on with the cap and shades as I avoid my former students for the next week or two… 

(This blog was my original Pause For Thought for last week. The theme was Guilty Pleasures. I made myself vulnerable and did mine on Justin Bieber! Then David Bowie died and I had to change it. In his death Bowie saved my cred... but not my soul you understand... though it is an interesting illustration... Anyway, I thought I'd share the Bieber one. How brave was I!)