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February 2017



I am a roving voter who takes serious consideration of a range of issues before deciding who to vote for and in what order. Well, actually I vote for everyone. It is the order that is obviously crucial!

The first thing I have done over this campaign, and all those before it, is to neutralise the colours on the front of the manifesto leaflets and posters. I refuse to let our politicians insult my intelligence or use fear tactics in order to manipulate my vote. The UK/Irish border is NOT at stake in this election. If there is ever a Referendum on that issue we can surmise on it then. Not this Thursday! 

We are more than orange and green and indeed if we are to find ourselves moving forward faster then we have to vote for parties who have gotten over the orange and green cards. Which leads me into my second consideration.

I always to vote for the candidate who has convinced me they are interested in the widest common good. As a follower of Jesus I have never been so self indulgent to vote for myself. There might be all kinds of reasons why a candidate or party suits me. They might make me richer, they might fly my flag, they might help me impose personal opinions. 

There seems nowhere in Scriptures where I can find that kind of voting open to me. I am always drawn to Jeremiah 29 where the prophet calls the people of God in the alien place of exile to “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” If the common good benefits, I too will benefit!

So, thirdly, I am looking down the manifestos or listening closely to the debates in order to see who might be closest to what Jesus was about. I will be holding the manifestos up side by side with Jesus first public declaration: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,


    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Who is going to fulfil the Old Testament prophetic imagining that Jesus read here? For God throughout Scriptures the poor, the marginalised, indeed the widow, the orphan, the stranger are in the forefront of his laws. Who will be fighting for those whom God has a heart for in Stormont!

In a N. Irish context there is another huge issue to surmise before ordering my candidates. Luke 6 is also a vital text in any election here. As we move away from the violent trauma of our past, which candidate will be most likely to take Jesus call to love former enemies seriously.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The party or politician who puts reconciliation at the top of the agenda will always nudge my Biblical pencil with most force.

One last thing. I will have been listening throughout the campaign for the politicians who are most generous and gracious in their public debates and deliberations. A Christlike approach to other parties and fellow politicians will speak loudly into my decision making. The more I hear about the faults of the other politicians the more I district the weight of a politicians own case. When slander and a nasty approach to fellow politicians are used then I personally have heard enough.

As I consider my first preference and, just as important in PR elections, who is 2, 3, 4 and 5 I will be aware that no one candidate or party will encapsulate all that I would like to see. 

However, I believe I have enough sieves in place to help me sort out the order. I also believe that with the differences I have with all the parties and politicians there is more than enough in common for me to find enough names to put a 1,2,3,4 or 5 beside and hope that our future might be better than our past.

Now… a few more days in listening, surmising and prayer!


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be preparing for the preparation. We have come through Epiphany in the Church year and head into the week that Lent begins. As we do we will be gathering around Matthew 17 where Jesus takes a few disciples up the mountain to experience his transfiguration. This seems a preparation of sorts too. What in our lives needs prepared for? Personally? Fitzroy? Northern Ireland in an election week? Worship by our classical duo of Guthrie and Livingstone.

In the evening (7pm) our Source band will lead some worship and a few of the congregation will read letters that they have written to their 16 year old selves. Now that will be an interesting evening for sure!


Harrison I Me Mine

Five spiritual gems from George Harrison in honour of his birthday. Harrison took an eastern mystical journey to seek God but though I come from a Christian perspective I love caressing and colliding his spiritual musings against my own Scriptures and creed.

1. WITHIN YOU, WITHOUT YOU (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band)

“We were talking-about the love that's gone so cold and the people,
Who gain the world and lose their soul-
They don't know-they can't see-are you one of them?”

Though George Harrison would leave the faith of his Catholic upbringing to seek spiritual enlightenment in the eastern mysticism of Krishna, he is still quoting Jesus right in the middle of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band.

It is at a crucial time of invitation to follow him that Jesus tells his disciples that they must deny themselves and take up their cross daily. He then asks what would it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul. 

It was prophetic stuff when Jesus said it and prophetic stuff in the middle of the sixties when Harrison brings it up on arguably the most prophetic rock album in history; a whole generation who “had never had it so good” in material terms were pulled up short and made to reconsider their idea of human fulfilment.


2. ISN’T IT A PITY (All Things Must Pass) 

“Isn't it a pity
Now, isn't it a shame
How we break each other's hearts
And cause each other pain
How we take each other's love
Without thinking anymore
Forgetting to give back
Isn't it a pity”

One of George Harrison’s finest moments. Even on his amazing triple record All Things Pass this stands out. When listening to All Things Must Pass you should always remember that it was written during the break-up of The Beatles. Songs like All Things Must Pass, Wah Wah and this are infused by such events. 

These lyrics could be a real poetic description of those dying days of the greatest rock band in history who are losing what made them spectacularly special because they were using each other and taking each other for granted.

It is a good parable of how we all treat each other. Isn’t it a pity has no solutions. It is a melancholic sorrowful warning of what we have done to each other since Cain and Abel. 

As my wee country find sit way out of conflict, still hurting one another in word and political action I cannot help with sadness but sing along with George. 


3. ALL THINGS MUST PASS (All Things Must Pass)

“Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It's not always going to be this gray

All things must pass
All things must pass away”

I have been known to listen to this one during difficult times. Harrison himself was living through the darkness of the break up of The Beatles as he wrote this. It is a spiritual message for sure, a philosophising about what U2 would later call “Stuck in a moment.” 

It is a great truth when I need to seek a view from beyond the moment, a vertical perspective on the horizontal. It’s good to have a prayer of hopefulness that “it’s not always going to be this way.”


4. ANY ROAD (Brainwashed)

“Bow to God call him sir

But if you don’t know where you’re going

Any road will take you there”

This came on the radio one morning as I was relaxing on the north coast. I found myself thinking how wonderful it was that such a positive spiritual challenge was going out over the airwaves – 

“But oh Lord we’ve got to fight

With the thoughts in the head with the dark and the light

No use to stop and stare

If you don’t know where you’re going

Any road will take you there.”

Preach it George, preach it! It was in disbelief that as the song faded out the presenter and his side kick went on at some length as to how they liked the song but what on earth was George going on about! They were totally confused saying it was deep but very shallow. WHAT?!?!

Whether it is in my personal spiritual seeking after God; or what kind of life I live as someone who thinks he has some clues to what faith in God means; or whether it is my Church and its vision for mission; or whether it is our wee country’s way forward we need to have a clear idea where we are going! 


5. DEVIL’S RADIO (Cloud 9)

“I heard it in the night
Words that thoughtless speak
Like vultures swooping down below
On the devil's radio

I hear it through the day
Airwaves gettin' filled
With gossip broadcast to and fro
On the devil's radio”

A more light hearted #5 but lovely little boring lyric to a tight little pop tune on Cloud 9. Gossip! It’s an everyday malaise in Churches and communities.

Apparently Harrison saw the words Devil’s Radio on a Church notice Board. Gossip is an everyday annoyance come evil. The Devil’s Radio is a great image. And I’ll confess - guilty! 



Black mamba

Black Mamba sleeps

With a killer bite

Poison tongued intentions

Spitting his spite

Lingering death amusement

Fun in ferocious fear

On the very edge of hell

You take him away from here

To the lies and the spit

The slaps and clenching fists

To the whips and scourging lashes

To the thorns and angry twists

The hammer crash on flesh and bone

The shrieks of fury and pain

The breather into suffocation

Then the harrowing agony again

You stand and meet his stare

Peer love into his silence

Treat him with precious respect

In an even more violent violence

None survive this merciless place

Yet you walk away somehow

Black mamba looks up at you and smiles

“Baba Comrie, I’m sleeping now…

Baba Comrie, I’m sleeping now!”

Roy Comrie

Listening to the stories of a Missionary and PJ Harvey’s record To Bring You My Love (particularly Long Snake Moan) influenced this poetic piece back in 1995.

The poem is a blending of two of the stories of a family friend Roy Comrie who has spent most of his life doing radically Christ like things in Africa, particularly his homeland of Zimbabwe. 

Roy was bitten by a Black Mamba and not many survive that. His Trazan like wisdom and speed of thought was one of the reasons he did. God’s grace the over riding one, he would add.

Roy, tells another story of picking up a hitchhiker, just after the Rhodesian war. The man had a big gun which he set between his legs and started the journey as an uneasy passenger. Many would have been phased by such a confrontation but Roy sneaked into the guys life, by speaking his language and drawing him in.

The man had told Roy that hadn’t slept for months as a realist of what he seen and done during the war. Realising that this was the most violent man he had ever met Roy decided to take him to the most violent place there had ever been. Over decades Christians have been quick to denounce X rated movies, forgetting that the Christian faith is built around an X rated scene. Roy shared the story of Jesus’ cross.

When they arrived in Harare the man refused to get out of the car until Roy introduced him to Jesus. A week later they met at an arranged place. Roy says the man was running down the road towards him shouting, “Baba Comrie I am sleeping now!” Baba is the word for a dear friend. The man’s life had been turned around. 

Listening to Long Snake Moan, my head tried to play with the snake and the soldier, seeking tough PJ Harvey guitar riff language.  

I am thrilled that Roy now wants to use the poem in a book about his life, The Unmistakeable Hand Of God, being published soon!


Fitzroy E Hanna

(photo: Elizabeth Hanna)

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy will be my first ever attempt at preaching from Leviticus. What do you reckon... in the middle of all this purification from messy body fluids... there is a political manifesto that our electioneering politicians need to read and apply and that we voters need to soak in as we make our decisions. Wee bit of  the Sermon On The Mount, a few reflections on 4 Corners Festival and a couple of songs from Jonny Fitch. Youthed up worship too!

In the evening (7pm) we have 6 politicians from the main parties sharing what priority reconciliation is in their manifestos.

Participants (in alphabetical order…):

Steve Aiken, UUP

Claire Bailey, Green Party

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance

Claire Hanna, SDLP

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Fien 

Christopher Stalford, DUP  

The event will last around 90 minutes and there will be tea and coffee afterwards.

This is a joint venture of Corrymeela and the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship and there will be a chance of Q & A.



Lightbody Supporter

In the recent round of election interviews Arlene Foster has been asked about why she didn’t take up Martin McGuinness’s suggestion that as First Minister and Deputy First Minister they should have attended both a Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland match at last summer’s European Championship Finals together. Arlene refused to go and Martin went to both.

Arlene’s reasoning on BBC’s The View was that she didn’t support Republic Of Ireland and wasn’t into gesture politics. It is unfortunate that Mrs Foster didn’t take McGuinness’s lead on this. We need to find gestures across our communities that lead to the reconciled future that brings common good for all.

Perhaps our next Executive Office could employ Gary Lightbody as Minister For Shared Future Sporting Gestures…


“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 things 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, one of the few quality players Northern Ireland had at the time, 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 in the creation of division. A pair of Rangers or Celtic slippers at 3 years of age or a shirt at 7 years of age might just 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! 

I am Northern Irish but I love both countries and feel an affinity across the island. I call my space the Venn Diagram. Last summer in the Euros I felt double blessing. Now what about the “Ireland in the World Cup/BOTH North AND South”? Bring it on! If they met in the final Gary who will we cheer; come on the wee north! You too Arlene?


Ballot box

Corrymeela & Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship



Sunday February 19th, 2017 at 7pm

Fitzroy Presbyterian Church (use Rugby Road entrance)


As elections loom we are keen to make sure that reconciliation in our community is at the top of our politicians priority lists. Come along and listen as we ask the question. A representative from each party will have 5 minutes to outline their vision of reconciliation and we will also take questions from the audience. 

Participants (in alphabetical order…):

Steve Aiken, UUP

Claire Bailey, Green Party

Paula Bradshaw, Alliance

Claire Hanna, SDLP

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Fien 

Christopher Stalford, DUP  

The event will last around 90 minutes and there will be tea and coffee afterwards.




Colin Davidson

(very honoured to have this article published on

The 4 Corners Festival set out five years ago to get people out of their corners of Belfast and find new geography, new perspective and new friends. We were keen to make the Church positive and imaginative contributors to the reconciliation on the street, getting Jesus out from behind the walls of Churches and on to the frontlines.

As we deal with a strange feeling that I term post festival blues we immediately start asking how we have done. We will glance across every event and pause at all the moments, the sentences, the after event cups of coffee and try to distil something of what went on.

Paul Brady’s song The Island got more than one mention this week. While the more obvious lines, “Still trying to reach the future through the past/Still trying to carve tomorrow from a tombstone”, swept in and out of many of the conversations, I was most struck by,  “Now I know us plain folks don't see all the story/And I know this peace and love's just copping out”

What this festival affirmed to me was that peace and love is not copping out. That peace and love are a courageous thing. “It’s harder wage peace than war,” Barack Obama had told us at the Waterfront back in 2013. 

“Fighting to make peace” as my friends Lies Damned Lies once sang is difficult. That came through as Paul Gallagher shared how he fought to make sure his family didn’t take the “other” side and seek revenge for the random UFF attack that left him in a wheel chair. 

It came through as Mary Moreland talked through her coming to terms with the fact that her husband had been killed as she walked across the school playground to meet a policeman and how she had to keep it together for her young children. 

It came through as John Martin shared about his University years and for the first time coming to terms with his father’s death in the Poly bomb, before he was even born. Faith had been a resource for heavy leaning on. It was the unsaid that struck me; John’s mother’s bravery in bringing her son and daughter up while going through that trauma. 

It came through when Joe McKeown talked about the hatred that he held for the British soldiers who shot his Grandfather dead. “God took me to places I didn’t want to go,” he told us. “I broke down as I held a Union flag and cried like a baby.”

Colin Davidson’s profound declaration that the eighteen portraits in his Silent Testimony exhibition weren't about the past but about now is a key that unlocks our attempts to deal with the past. Paul, Mary, John and Joe are committed to working for peace. Their past impacts their now, their every single day, but their courageous decision every day is to seek a better future for all. A future Paul Gallagher suggested about simply stopping doing things that hurt each other.

During our Festival Sunday service, on BBC Radio Ulster, Fr Martin Magill confessed the more difficult parts of Scripture are the bits he does understand. When you understand you have to apply! For me the most difficult thing of the whole Festival to process was Trevor Morrow’s preach on Philippians chapter 2. In that chapter, in the context of a divided little Christian community, the apostle Paul tells us to be have the same mind as Christ Jesus. 

Trevor drew out three steps in the process of reconciliation that are in Paul’s writing. Firstly, Jesus gave up his rights and privileges and secondly he served his enemy. Thirdly, and here is where it gets brave, he sacrificed his own life to be reconciled. I mean it is obvious every Sunday in Church or Chapel or wherever Christians worship. However, when Trevor applied it to our Northern Irish enmities I was stopped in my tracks at the demands. The one hurt, the one on the receiving end of the injustice becomes the one who takes the blame and pain of reconciliation on themselves. Goodness me.

The 4 Corners Festival can be seen as lovely. Ten days when people across the corners of Belfast, drew seats or pews together in different corners. Strangers met over coffee. Great art was performed, a Snow Patrol guitarist even showed up, food was eaten and carers were rightfully shown a little care, the Shankill and Falls got walked. The challenge though was not pretty or nice. It was hard ball. This is the stuff of changing the way things were and are now into what they might possibly be. It is not for the faint hearted!

TRIBUTE TO ROBERT FISHER (Willard Grant Conspiracy) - 1957-2017

Robert Fisher

I was gutted to hear of the death of Robert Fisher on February 12th. Robert was a founding member of Willard Grant Conspiracy. I fell in love with their gentle ambience and Flannery O’Connor haunted songs when my friend Gordon Ashbridge played me Mojave in the later years of the last millennium. 

I was later thrilled to have Robert come into my BBC Rhythm and Soul studio at an extraordinarily early time one morning to do a live session. I remember his literally vast presence sitting across the desk from me and as he gently strummed a few chords I got that big baritone in all its power and yet fragility, right there next to me. It was absolutely wonderful. 

In our conversation I discovered that Robert had grown up in Church, hence the Flannery O’Connor and the numerable entrances of God into his songs of death and murder! 

He seemed to love what I was doing on Rhythm and Soul and when I met him at a Greenbelt festival a year or two later I was pleasantly surprised when he sought me out for a chat and told me that he thought I’d like the spiritual aspects of  their new record. He worked with my friend Malcolm Lindsay for a long period and I am so sorry that in his visits to Belfast we never got to hook up.

As I played the appropriate Fare Thee Well today I dug out these old reviews. They sum up Robert’s genius and what we will miss, not having him around anymore. 



Willard Grant Conspiracy are a sort of alternative country orchestra to best describe it. Seven of them all jamming away with fiddles and mandolins and slide guitars and keyboards and trumpets and harmonicas and all kinds of stuff. I sensed that it would be stripped back and to see the stage bulging with little room for swinging a hamster was a surprise. 

And it is stripped back and majestically almost touching the big music at times. It is tender and atmospheric and that atmosphere gets gloomy, pretty, quiet and beautifully loud. The first chord was so utterly gorgeous that I thought the angels had arrived to tell the shepherds something.

Then there is that voice of Robert Fisher. Fisher looks like your Sociology Professor who doubles as a poet at the English society. Then there his voice, deep and baritone. Making it sound downbeat even when it’s about colour and sun and happy, happy moments. There is a darkness too. Most of the time indeed. It’s Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave both joined to the hip with Johnny Cash and there’s murder and mercy at every turn. 

Indeed I was a little surprised by the amount of salvation or the hope of it kicking in. Jesus is here in the most unlikely of places and he is not the antagonist. The lesson for this late night Saturday night Mass was "I say salvation is in the smallest things/That life has to deliver". Amen! It was interesting to just check the web site and find that Fisher has the Baptist Church as an influence. Parental apparently. He has Flannery O’Connor in their too and that is it exactly. O’Connor becomes alternative country to live for a time among us.

Mojave is still the album for me and though Evening Mass, The Beautiful Song and Massachusetts were excellent I was still left loving Colour Of The Sun and The Work Song most of all, with Jess Klein adding perfect harmonies. Indeed I’d advise that they conspire to add Miss Klein to the orchestra for the fifth album that after tonight cannot come soon enough.



A Sandwich board doom laden title and Robert Fisher, who with Paul Austin in particular and a little squadron of guest musicians in no particular order or combination, is Willard Grant Conspiracy has the voice to tell tales of trouble and sorrow and mainly a cast of the dead. It is as deep in spirit as it is in sound; Nick Cave with a little more give. Cleverly he has gathered four old traditional songs of gloom and written new tunes adding them seamlessly to his own writing. Haunted by Flannery O’Connor as she is by Jesus there are little prayers and glimpses of hope that makes the speckles in the dark shine bright. Beyond This Shore and Fare Thee Well do shimmer and everything has the trademark WCG tenderness making as quiet a noise as a multitude of players can; a bit like Lambchop which would be a perfect CD shelf companion.


Finally… in his own words…

“Fare thee well

My delicate one

Make it up to you

In the morning sun

Fare thee well

I want you to know

Wherever I roam

I call you home”



Leviticus 19 is this week’s Old Testament reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday coming. It sits alongside Matthew 5: 38-48; the “love your neighbour” passage. 

As I read this Leviticus pericope, in the American Standard Version, I couldn’t help think it would be an appropriate Manifesto for God to send door to door to all our politicians as they in turn are out canvassing for our up and coming elections.

For absolute certainty, none of our political parties will be holy as our God is holy. However, I believe that it is our duty to read the Scriptures in one hand and the election manifestos in the other and prayerfully decide which party or politician is closest to God’s manifesto here… or to begin by pushing the furtherest away, furthest from our vote, if that is easier... BUT WE MUST VOTE!

Let these words of Scripture soak through your soul as you surmise...


1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. 


11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 


12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. 


13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. 


14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 


15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. 


16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord. 


17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.