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February 2016


Pelle with LC

As I reflected on Manchester City’s League Cup win it was not the trophy that made me proud to be a City fan. We’ve won more trophies in 5 years than I ever dreamed of! None will ever matter as much as 2011’s fa Cup and 2012’s Premiership moment. Winning in a penalty shoot out is not winning anyway, just deciding which of the two teams, who drew, take the trophy home. 

Yet today, as I surmised, I concluded that yesterday might actually be my proudest day supporting my beloved team of 47 years. Many will say that the money that ruined my favourite club should make me feel shame every day. Well I have written about that before. Three things about yesterday makes me feel that City were winners.

Firstly, our manager Manuel Pellegrini. Now he has always been “That Charming Man,” as the fans have quoted The Smiths, but yesterday he exceeded his charm. The controversial chat among the pundits before and during the match was his decision to play Willy Caballero in goal ahead of Joe Hart. Hart is obviously one of the best keepers in the world so no one could understand Pellegrini not playing his best player. Pellegrini said after the final whistle that he would rather not win the trophy than to tell a lie. In other words he had given his reserve goalkeeper his word that he would play him in League Cup games. He didn’t compromise his word, even for a trophy. Wow! This is not every day Soccer ethics in 2016, head and shoulders above most of his peers.

Many will say that Pellegrini is being treated badly by Manchester City being replaced no matter how well he does this season by Pep Guardiola. I am certainly impressed, as I so often am, by the way Manuel has dealt with the decision. I don’t see it as the betrayal that many do. In Europe this happens. 3 year contracts are just that and there is a lot of moving around. However, though I believe Pep has the credentials to win more trophies, can he be the authentic man of dignity and values that Pellegrini continually shows. Tough man to follow Mr. Pep!

Not only have City a gentleman as a manger but what a captain. My second reason to be proud yesterday could be seen, if you watched the players carefully, after Ya Ya’s winning penalty. As the players rushed to towards Toure and Caballero, Vincent Kompany stops and as everyone else thinks, “We’ve won it!” Kompany heads towards the Liverpool players to give his condolences and no doubt apologise for this awful way of winning it, something he articulated in the post match interview. Sportsmanship of a high calibre. A captain to be proud of.

Lastly, Joe Hart. I am a nerd and spend time watching the Manchester City Tunnel Cam where we get to see the players arriving for the game, heading out to play and coming back in at the end of the game. My interest is to see the genuine good guys. The ones who speak to the security staff or the mascots or the opposite team. Joe Hart comes across as a genuine man. Yesterday, he was not given his rightful place in the team. Everyone said he should have played. It’s City’s second League Cup win in three years and he hasn’t played in either. Yet, if you watch the post match celebrations then you see that he is as pleased with Willy Caballero’s heroics as anyone else. Generous of spirit.

So let us finish with the best bit of the entire day. For Liverpool fans that will no doubt be the fact that Raheem Sterling missed an open goal and had another opportunity to finish his old team off. For me it was the fact that Willy Caballero was the penalty shoot out hero. I am not saying that because it proved the pundits wrong. It is because the reserve goalkeeper at a massive club like Manchester City has to come to terms with playing very few games. They have to be of a world class quality but give their all week in week out to their competition for that one place on the team sheet. There are special qualities needed and many give up the chance of glory moments for such a role. Willy Caballero’s three penalty saves, two particularly spectacular, was one of the finest ever shoot out performances. He will forever be remembered, a City legend. It might be his finest career moment. His selflessness deserves it. How wonderful! Well done That Charming Man for giving it to him.


Bish and Me Laughing

Dear brother and sisters in Onialeku. Agnes and the children, Pastors and members of the Church, teachers and pupils in the school, members of the community. We mourn with you today at the loss of our dearest friend and inspiration Bishop Isaac. 4,000 miles away in Belfast, Northern Ireland the Fitzroy Church grieve with you. We have wept many tears since the news reached us on Friday morning. We feel your loss. We feel our own loss. We pray for you. Yesterday we did our own Memorial during our own Church service. I shared these thoughts and our Youth team from last year sang a song they learned in the school. 

Bishop Isaac was one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever met. He was a spiritual man who loved his Saviour. He was a passionate man who wanted to follow him. He was a compassionate man for his people. He was warm and kind and funny. We laughed a lot!

He was a leader. I don’t mean that someone gave him a position of leadership. He actually led his people, and indeed in some ways the people of Fitzroy, to follow Jesus. 

He had a dream. He told me that back in 2008 he asked God what he could do for the children. “A school” was God’s reply. Now how could he do that. Well, he did. Please gaze on the beauty of that new school in the next days and see Bishop Isaac’s dream right there in bricks and mortar, see a symbol of God’s goodness (God is good… all the time… all the time God is good!), see an actual miracle, see hope fulfilled and something to help us believe in hope that is still to come.

The children have a school. They can now dream of a better future for themselves and Uganda. When he asked God what he could do, he responded when God told him what he should do. And we all had the privilege of being invited into the dream. Our role now, still under his leadership, is to care for and carry that dream on into the future. Fitzroy and Fields of Life commit ourselves to that.

I sat under a tree with Bishop Isaac every day for a week. I just basked in his spiritual wisdom and vision. He made a bigger impact on my life than he will ever know. My tears on Friday morning were a celebration of the love that I had for this man. On Friday morning I lost a mentor and a dear friend. A friend that I believe God chose for me. 

While we were sitting under that tree last August a friend sent Janice and I a text. It was a quote from CS Lewis. It read…

“In friendship… we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one University instead of another… the accident of a topic raised at a first meeting - any of these chances might have kept us apart. But for a Christian, there are strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and finding one another. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” 

Brother Bishop (as I greeted him every morning) and I sensed that truth. We knew we had been chosen to be under that particular tree together. The Master of Ceremonies had looked down on us and our communities, so far apart. He had manipulated our lives that we and our communities would be joined in the deepest connection from the widest of beginnings. 

Thank you dearest brother. I loved you very much. I thank God for you and pray that I get to sit under our tree soon… BUT I will so miss you, not being there with me. 


You had a dream

And it wasn't about you

It was about the children

Who couldn't dare to dream

You dreamed for them

For their future and the nation’s

And now the children grow in a field of dreams.


You had a dream

And saw it through

We weep at your death

But smile at your dream

For the dream lives after you

God’s dream built on earth

Onialeku as it is in heaven.


You had a dream

And you invited us in

We sat under a tree

You envisioned and inspired

And I felt the dreams 

They flew and floated and fell

I was soaked by their blessing.


You had a dream

You were dreaming in God

And you carried it into being

And now you leave it down

So we will lift it up

We will cradle it and care

This dream will go on… and on…


Please God… let it be so… Amen!


Fitzroy building

In the morning (11am) we have a Family Service. Because we are following the 100 Days Prayer for 100 Years Of History project, during Lent and beyond, we are looking at The Lord's Prayer. There will music and drama and video and song and the talent that is Paul Bowman will bring it on home from Luke 11. After the service we will be having our Bread and Cheese Lunch where all the proceeds will go to Christian Aid and Tearfund. Come on down and enjoy.

In the evening (7pm) Susan Williams will continue her series on emotional deprivation. This week we will look at the problems it has on faith : Problems for Faith: Abandonment and presence in emotional deprivation, with a few reflections on the life of hymn writer William Cowper.

YOU HAD A DREAM... AND INVITED US IN (Tribute to Bishop Isaac Aswa)

Bishop Isaac and Me

I use the Deacon Blue line a lot but “It’s good to know how big a life can be/Especially when it falls away so easily.” Ricky Ross wrote these words about pioneer youth guru Jim Punton but this morning they sum up my own sense of loss. My dear brother Bishop Isaac Aswa passed way last night. I feel the loss deep in my soul. He fell away too easily… BUT what a big life!

Bishop Isaac was a leader. He was a Church leader; Elim. He was a community leader. I don’t mean leader in the sense of he has a position of leadership. I mean he led. This man took his people from where they were to somewhere else. 

Last August I sat with this man, small in stature, huge in faith, frail in body but robust in soul, under a tree in Arua, West Nile, Uganda and basked in the rays of his spiritual maturity and missional vision. 

He told me that me that in 2008 he had been speaking to the children in Church. As he was sharing with them he asked God, “What can I do for them?” Onialuku is a poor part of Arua, up on the north west fringes of Uganda, feeling cut off. There were few resources to come up with any pie in the sky dreams.

Bishop Isaac sensed God answered him by telling him to start a school. Now that was a dream. In Uganda you don’t just put your name down for a school place when your child reach their third or fourth birthdays. As parents or community leaders you need to actively start a school, close enough for your young children to get to. So with some parents Bishop Isaac did just that. They started a class in the Church building. Then they built a make shift school beside the Church building.

By 2015, when I got to the chair under the tree, Bishop Isaac’s dream had been hit out of the park of Arua dreams. With the school developing and growing Bishop Isaac had connected with Fields Of Life and Fields Of Life had connected them with Fitzroy. 

As Bishop Isaac and I looked up after he shared the story of his dream, we were gazing right into the bricks and mortar of a dream come true. Right there in front of us was a brand new school just a few feet away. Now the children of this community had a place to grow and learn and be equipped to take their place in developing the nation. It was one of those very thin places between how earth is and what heaven is and how the two can merge. If we dream. If we dream in God.  Bishop Isaac taught me that… and more.

Thank you dearest brother. I loved you very much. I pray God I get to sit under our tree soon… BUT I will so miss you not being there with me.  


You had a dream

And it wasn't about you

It was about the children

Who couldn't dare to dream

You dreamed for them

For their future and the nation’s

And now the children grow in a field of dreams.


You had a dream

You got to see it through

We weep at your death

But smile at your dream

For the dream lives after you

God’s dream built on earth

Onialeku as it is in heaven.


You had a dream

And you invited us in

We sat under a tree

You envisioned and inspired

And I felt the dreams 

They flew and floated and fell

I was soaked by their blessing.


You had a dream

You were dreaming in God

And you carried it into being

And now you leave it down

So we will lift it up

We will cradle it and care

This dream will go on… and on…

Onialeku PS



David C Clements LDIH

Back in 2005 when I was a radio DJ with some clout on the Belfast scene someone slipped me a CDR marked Clemo. I was told not to tell anyone. Oh dear I just did! They were demos from Six Star Hotel boy David Clements. I hoked it out last week when David C Clements released his debut solo album, a whole decade later. For a few years people have been telling me that I would love David C Clements. People whose opinion I respect. As I have argued, The Longest Day In History hasn’t been rush job!

This is a mature and carefully constructed piece of work. It is layered in arrangement, in production and in the lyrics. It is a layered testimony to one young man’s life. It is about growing up, leaving naivety behind, discovering that life is not so much about flying on wings as eagles but more a crawling through the muck of a life whose hopes gets battered, faith gets questioned and where love needs hung on to even when you don’t feel like you can.

This week I had the album playing in the car on the school run. As we left the driveway Caitlin said, “Is this Iain?” Our girls know their Iain Archer and are quick to recognise sounds and voices. I don’t think Caitlin got it wrong here. In Clements’ early days making music Iain Archer was the highest standard of Belfast music. If he took time off writing for Jake Bugg, James Bay and Steve Mason then this is the kind of record he might make. 

There are traces of Archer’s Magnetic North and To The Pine Roots here. It is contemporary in its soundscapes. You might think The National or even Sigur Ros in its atmospheric crescendos. Yet, beneath it all, it is more like Jason Isbell; the song is the core of this album’s soul. Gary Lightbody might call Clements’ Belfast’s Springsteen. I stick with Isbell; more contemporary. Yet Archer supersedes them both.

Like Archer and Isbell, David C’s lyrics need time. They are poetic, deep and at times ambiguous. I listened to the record on a car journey on a dark night and the flickers of light in the dark seemed a perfect visual companion. I found myself pondering two things; what these songs are about, line after line, and what my life is about, every line opening up those thoughts. 

There’s a lot of fear, loss and making sense of a future on here and an awful lot of seeking home. I was taken by the first lines of Afraid Of The City


“Well I felt that winter on the night before

And I lost my summer and I lost the Lord

I get pain in the back of my head

When I hear the chord

Don’t want to hear those songs about getting it right

When I keep getting wrong” 


I’m Still Alive has the beautiful: -


“Sometimes at night

The sound of the forest choir

Echoes through the pine, a song from a different time

Just like after the flood

That came in the form of a dove

Now it's in the tone of your voice

Oh when it called for us

'Cause I can hear the words coming down

They're singing "I'm still alive”


And in the end there is hope and love and peace in Hurricane’s epic conclusion:


“So we gather up our autumn sins as winter stole our colours

And we put all of our matches to our hearts we kept in boxes

And we watched the colours take our mothers

Sisters may we know what love is

Love us till we're lovers just as fire turns to colours

We observe the streets and rivers as our thoughts turn

To our fathers just as we began to see you flow like rivers to the seas

And we imagine how our father sees our lives as short as day

And we remember all the day could bring

So come on rivers

Take us to the sea”


The songs are so strong, the melodies so incessant, the words so stimulating. It has been slow to get out and it is a slow burn that seeps in. Worth the wait!


Me and Marty 3

I am getting excited about a trip to the Midwest of America in April with my good friend Fr Martin Magill. Martin and I have become a bit of a double act in recent years, helping to found the 4 Corners Festival and speaking together at the 2015 Sinn Fein Ard Fheis to name a couple. 

In April we will spend nine days in the Midwest covering 4 Universities. We are looking forward to sharing our journey of friendship and the lessons we are learning in the ministry of reconciliation. Speaking recently to a group from Bethel University,  back here in Belfast we realised that the work of reconciliation resonates much more to this generation of American students than it has for some time. The racial tensions in many places has put reconciliation back on the agenda, so we feel we might have something to contribute from our experiences back here in Belfast. 

Details of the trip will unfold over the next few weeks but this is where we will be, if you happen to be in these areas:

April 8 - Taylor University, Uplands Indiana

April 9 - 11 April- Ohio Wesleyan University and other venues, Delaware Ohio

April 12 - Dayton University, Dayton Ohio

April 13 - 14 - Calvin College, Grand Rapids Michigan


Stocki 4

The sermon was based on Jesus Temptations in Luke 4... you can hear it in full HERE


What do we do

With the space in between

Between the temptation

And the yield or resist.


In the space in between

Do we reach to be more than we are

And become less

Like Eve...


Or do we become more than we were

By the grace

Jesus became less

That we might be


Temptation is

An attack on who we are

With ambition that we might lose

Our identity

To self indulge

To self rely

To self serve


In the space in between

We remember who we are

And where we stand

In loving the Lord our God

With all our heart, soul, mind and strength

And our neighbours as ourselves.


As the devil teases 

To steal and kill and destroy

We hold firm

To life and life in all its fulness.




I thought it would be a struggle to follow Elvis Costello’s autobiography but lightning does strike twice and once again I have spent a week or two in the life of a rock star and felt bereft when I turned that last page. 

Petty is aptly named. It is not so much about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers though of course they are all over it. It is not even about Tom Petty though of course… Petty goes right to the core of this rock star. Maybe other biographers have tried to reach the artist’s soul but few have gotten there as Warren Zanes has here. 

Zanes was a rock star himself. He was a member of the Del Fuegos and supported Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers back in the 80s. Today, having acquired a PhD in between, Zanes is Vice President of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He knows his rock music. 

As well as that, and maybe because of it, Zanes had access to not only Petty but the band, the family and friends. Some reviews have criticised the fact that there not more direct quotes from these key players but I do not feel I would need more quotes as I believe Zanes uses his interviews to good effect. It was particularly intriguing to hear from Petty’s daughter Andria

What we get is a very personal account of Tom Petty’s relationships and in general the difficulties within. From his abusive father, to what seems to have been a loveless and difficult first marriage that went on way too long, to the frictions within The Heartbreakers particularly drummer Stand Lynch, we get the impression that Petty’s commercial success was lived alongside a great deal of tension, stress and sadness. The conclusion is that the art was where Petty found his solace and refuge. I have not found many rock biogs that concentrate on the friendships and I found Zanes original and intriguing.

A look at a rock star who seems to have struggled with close friendships it is even more intriguing to find that his best friend became George Harrison. Through producer Jeff Lynne the two seem to have connected immediately and been confidants. Bob Dylan is another buddy… and Roy Orbison… He ends up in a band with them all - The Travelling Wilburys. Quite a thing for a young boy impacted by The Beatles on Ed Sullivan thirty years before. 

My main interest when readings biographies is what they can tell me about the songs. To be fair Petty is slack on that. However, it led me into rediscovering some of Petty’s work that I had not spent enough time in. The Wildflowers album particularly. Zanes opens up this work with Rick Rubin, waxes lyrical and I reassessed it. Very pleased that I did.

I also remembered that late 80s time when The Heartbreakers went on the road with Bob Dylan being The Band of fifteen years previous. It has me yearning for that as part of Bob Dylan’s Official Bootleg releases.

In the end Petty finds Dana York, the love of his life. She took her time arriving in a life that had even been touched with drug addiction. She seems to have arrived though at a time when Petty was getting his life together, assessing his weaknesses, putting right his mistakes and getting a new lease of life. Petty has a happy ending after quite a sad story. 

Zanes is a great writer. It’s beautifully written.



A Season On The Line

When Glen Hansard’s Didn’t He Ramble album (read my review of Didn't He Ramble here) was released last September he did what he has been doing since I bought The Frames 7” single The Dancer back in 1991, he became my favourite artist on the planet yet again. His concert at the Ulster Hall in December (read my review of the Ulster Hall gig here) solidified that position and Didn’t He Ramble beat off all competition to be hailed my Record of 2015.

That end of year concert had me intrigued. A song called Way Back In The Way Back When stood out that night with its riffed up electric blues. I actually assumed that it was blues cover. YouTube very quickly put me right and I wanted more.

More is what we have got. Less that six months after Didn’t He Ramble you can buy Didn’t He Ramble. Sounds Irish but actually the song Didn’t He Ramble was not on the album Didn’t He Ramble but it here it is alongside the aforementioned Way Back In The Way Back When

Both songs are guitar driven spurts of energy. They are Frames-like in loudness but song structured like the Didn’t He Ramble songs. Indeed the song Didn’t He Ramble has that horn section of The Lowly Deserter but you can tell that these two songs are from another session, apparently between American shows last Fall. They stand alone hence the luxurious need of an EP.

The other two songs Let Me In and Return seems were from the Didn’t He Ramble sessions and are the other side of Hansard, acoustic, sparse and sensitive. 

My theo-musicologist gets most kick out of Way Back In The Way Back When which sounds like the exodus of the children of Israel - “broken battered but believing…”


“I sang my song until I knew what it meant

What back in the way back when

Prayed to God he had a hand to lend

Way back in the way back when”


My goodness but I cannot tell you how much I love that line - “I sang my song until I knew what it meant”. It is like Springsteen’s Promised Land or Land Of Hope and Dreams but it it not a looking forward but a looking back to a pilgrimage that was experienced and can be brought to mind when the tough times come again. Hansard’s voice wails like a battered believer full of resistant strength. 

Indeed, the versatility of Hansard’s voice is one of the many things showcased in this 4 song treat of a release!

DO WE WANT WHAT WE WANT - Stocki Sermon Short Form

Stocki IF preach...

This morning's sermon in Fitzroy was based on LUKE 13: 31-35...

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32 He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, "Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

There are three wants in this passage...


Herod wanted to kill him

Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem like a mother hen

And Jerusalem didn’t want.


What do we want

Do we want 

What we should want?


Do we want to relinquish power

Do we want someone else on our throne

Or do we want to kill him?


Do we want to mother the broken

Do we want to open our eyes to the need

Do we want to wrap arms of grace around the neighbourhood?


Do we want the default positions of our faith smashed

Do we want a paradigm shift in how we do worship

Or do we want to reject the love of a mother hen?


What do we want

Do we want

What we should want?

Full sermon will appear here later in the week...