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March 2017

ST. PATRICK'S DAY SURMISE ON IRELAND'S PAST AND THE FUTURE

 

Images-3

A seed was sown

With a simple bow

Where we remembered our heroes

She said the time has come now

She laid her wreath

With dignity and grace

An eloquent silence

And softness in her face

She lowered her head down

And held the pose

My tears flowed freely

God only knows

She remembered our losses

She remembered her own

And in that moment

A seed was sown…..

St. Patrick’s Day always sends me back to Irish music. I am not so much drawn to the trad folk but to the abundance of brilliant songwriters. Luka Bloom is one of those. So, after I am drawn to the artists I then look for the song that speaks into my Irishness on this Irishness of days. See it as my liturgical reflection on what is a holy day. 

Today, it was Luka’s song about that amazing day in May 2011 when Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland and along with President Mary McAleese literally acknowledged and then changed history. On his website Luka Bloom tells a very moving story about how A Seed Was Sown came about. Like me, he had little reason to think anything important could come from such a visit. 

Turning on the TV he was suddenly engaged and moved by one simple moment when two women, significant in position but rarely potent with power, sowed a seed that could change our island forever. As the Queen of Britain and the President of Ireland remembered their dead together something happened. 

Today I surmise this event, through this song, as a moment when the past was honoured and the present was changed to give a launching pad to a different future. There is a healing through the remembering not only for a British Queen and an Irish President personally but for two nations.

How we have seen and treated our past citizens has warped and twisted the way we look at one another in the present. What our leaders did on those days in 2011 was to courageously transform the landscape to leave us with new fertile terrain to sow seeds to a better future. Whether we follow will be the test of our Britishness or our Irishness. They have given us the example…

My prayer for St. Patrick’s Day is that our newly elected MLAs... and indeed all of us might follow that example!


CAUGHT BETWEEN THE MYSTERY - (for the sad passing of Leigh (Johnston) Dunn)

Leigh and Geoff

I was heartbroken yesterday afternoon when I heard the news that one of my former students, Leigh Dunn (nee Johnston) had passed away. Leigh, and indeed her husband Geoff, had lived with me in Derryvolgie Hall, where I lived as Chaplain. Leigh was just 37 years old.

I had connected on Facebook with Leigh a few years ago. She had married Geoff and was living in Ballybogey, raising a young family. Every time we drove through Ballybogey I thought of her. 

Last weekend I heard from another ex student that she was very ill and then yesterday that she had left us. My heart goes out to Geoff and her children, Zac, Jessica, Harry and Alice. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a comforter and I pray that they will know the truth of that down through the days, months and indeed the years that are to come.

I used to hope that most of my students would remember their time in Derryvolgie, forever. I used to use that Eagles line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave,” at the end of year barbecue! 

What I didn’t realise was that I would never be able to leave my love for my students behind. On Facebook I get to follow, smile and pray as I watch them get new jobs, travel, marry or have babies… and as in Leigh’s case struggle with illness and tragedy. In the end they could check out but my heart and soul continues to love so many of them.

Leigh was a nurse and therefore, during her studies, was often away on placements but I remember conversations with her and indeed often the very place in the halls where they took place. I remember Leigh’s smile, head of curly hair and a gentle but effervescent joy. She had a lightness of spirit. It was refreshing to be in her presence. It was seventeen years ago for goodness sake but still vivid in my memory.

As I grieve Leigh's untimely loss, I am drawn back to a poem I had written for another beloved of my Derryvolgie community who passed away ten years ago; Lindsay (Anderson) Emerson. I read this at Lindsay’s funeral. It was trying to express a strength of faith with all the confusion, heartache and spiritual culture shock that the death of a loved brings, particularly at such a young age.

The last lines of the poem were influenced by a television interview with novelist Lionel Shriver at the time of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Shriver spoke about a “sovereignty of evil”. It made some sense to me. We try to explain these dark tragedies when they are a mystery and beyond the rational abilities of our finite minds. Shriver was saying that evil is transcendent and beyond our control. For me, as a Christian, God is ultimately the Sovereign one and as a result also beyond the most acute genius of humanity’s best explanations… or control!  

Just a day or two before I heard about Leigh’s illness I heard a quotation on Criminal Minds, the television series. “The devil has miracles too” - John Calvin. I thought that that theologised, from a Christian thinker, Shriver’s comment. On this side of eternity we are at the mercy of that which is wrong and tragic and heartbreaking. It is in those most horrible of places that the miracle of God’s mercy in Jesus incarnation, death and resurrection meets us. 

We are indeed often caught between the two...

 

CAUGHT BETWEEN THE MYSTERY

We come with faith

But the theology doesn't rhyme

We come with hope

But we are all out of time

We come with reason to believe

But reason isn’t what it was

We come with words that fail us

But Jesus never does

Faces stained with the love we treasured

Our heart broken into a million pieces

It’s the hardest thing you can ever do

Give your love into the arms of Jesus

And I know today that Leigh is singing

But it doesn't make this anymore right

To be caught between the mystery of darkness

And the mystery of God’s good light.


FROM THE BRIDGE AT SELMA... TO THE 4 CORNERS OF BELFAST CITY... Sunday in Fitzroy

DR F D Reese

FROM THE BRIDGE AT SELMA… TO THE 4 CORNERS OF BELFAST CITY…

The Journey of Reconciliation… Goes On… and On

featuring Church leaders from Selma

SUNDAY, MARCH 19th @ 7pm

FITZROY CHURCH, 77 University Ave, BT7 1HL

 

This Sunday evening Fitzroy is delighted, honoured and thrilled to host a delegating of Church leaders and young people from two Churches in Selma, Alabama. 

James Perkins is pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and was the first African American Mayor of Selma. Steve Burton is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Selma, one of the first majority white churches to get behind the civil rights movement. They are bringing a team of young people and a few adults from Selma to Belfast, who are keen to work together to build relationships in what can still be a divided society. 

One of the other leaders is Christina Reese. She is the daughter of civil rights activist Frederick D Reese, one of the so-called Courageous Eight who invited Martin Luther King to come to Selma.

After the 2014 movie Selma, starring David Oyelowo and the music of Common brought Selma to a wider audience. We will look at some of the movie and ask what the locals made of it? How has Selma changed since then? And what the current reconciliation work is like between communities of faith in 2017.

This will be a fascinating and informative evening. It might be as close as any of us get to Dr Martin Luther King. It will certainly help us to get an insight into how the modern crisis in American race relations. It will also help us relate the story of Selma to the story of Belfast.

Our Selma brothers and sisters arrive in Fitzroy as we are in the middle of a Lent study of Rowan Williams’ penetrative book Being Disciples. This week’s study chapter is appropriately, Forgiveness. In the chapter Williams writes:

“The person who asks forgiveness has renounced the privilege of being right or safe; she has acknowledged that she is hungry for healing, for the bread of acceptance and the restoration of relationship. But equally the person who forgives has renounced the safety of being locked into the position of offended victim; she has decided to take the risk of creating fresh relationship known to be capable of involving hurt. Bothe the giver and receiver of forgiveness have moved out of the safety zone; they have begun to ask how to receive their humanity as a gift.”

Expect some of Rowan Williams thoughts on forgiveness to blow, by the Spirit, across the bridge at Selma and back across into our own wounded and wonderful city of Belfast as we all, black or white, Catholic or Protestant, seek the fulness of our humanity.

Everybody is welcome!

 


BROKEN THINGS... STORY OF A SONG... AND MY PART IN IT!

Julie Miller BT

“I wrote this song in 1993. It was beautifully recorded by The Williams Brothers. In 1998 (ed) the violence in Northern Ireland ignited in Omagh, resulting in a tragedy beyond a heart’s ability to comprehend, killing 29 innocent people, injuring hundreds. Juliet Turner sand this song at the memorial service and I continue this dedication to these families, and all whose hearts are broken things.”

These are Julie Miller’s sleeve notes from her 1999 album Broken Things, about the title song Broken Things.

What she doesn’t write, that which she didn’t even know, that which I have never recorded until now almost twenty years later, is that I was the one who suggested that Juliet Turner would sing that song.

I still remember where I was that Saturday afternoon in August 1998 when news swept across Northern Ireland about a car bomb in Omagh town centre. Almost immediately, it was realised that this would be the worst atrocity in all of our modern Troubles. Janice and I were in a cafe In Ballycastle and like the entire population we started wondering who we knew that might be in Omagh at that time.

It was four years since our dreamed of ceasefires. It was just a few months after the Good Friday Agreement seemed to end such days forever. This was a hard one to take. They all were down through the decades but that the very worst happened in so called peace times!

I was hosting my radio show the night after and dedicated the entire show to a response to the bomb. I didn’t play Broken Things

However, I got a phone call from Rev Robert Heron, a minister in Omagh, asking me if I could put him in touch with Juliet Turner. Juliet was from Omagh and Robert knew that I knew her. I had had her sing on my show. He wanted to invite her to sing at the Memorial Services a few days later.

Juliet was reluctant. I can remember her on the phone with me saying that she was on her way home to Omagh and was going to meet Robert but didn't feel she had any songs that were appropriate. Robert then phoned back. Juliet had given him the same story… no songs. 

It was at this point that Broken Things came to me. Juliet had sung it on my radio show and I also remember her doing it on a Sunday morning Religious TV show on BBC, about the Summer Madness Festival. For me this was a spiritual enough song to fit into a Memorial Service. I told Robert to suggest this song to Juliet!

As I watched the Memorial Service live in television I could not believe how appropriate the song was for such an occasion. Juliet's empathy and poise and my goodness the poignancy. There are two things going on in Miller’s tune; a deep awareness of brokenness and a wide eyed hopefulness for redemption. As Juliet sang it in the palpable sorrow of her hometown’s grief the song took on new dimensions. It was cathartic. It was prayerful. It was a commitment in seeming hopelessness to a transcendent hope of healing. 

There were calls for Juliet to bring it out as a single. There is little doubt it would have been number 1 and would have launched her career onto another level. Juliet was a woman of more integrity. She refused to exploit such a tragedy for her own gain. She was eventually persuaded to record a stripped back version for the Across The Bridge Of Hope fundraising album but as far as Juliet was concerned this was a song for the moment and not be repeated as some hit single. Respect!

Indeed, many years later, I asked Juliet to sing it at my installation service as minister in Fitzroy. She would have been happy to sing something else. I wanted Broken Things as I committed my personal life to God and this Church community. Alison Cochrane and Ali Buick (now McKeown) on harp did the business!

This very morning in Fitzroy Ali McKeown was on harp again and this time Shannon Clements did an awesome job of the lyrics. Ali and Shannon performed it during the offering. It is perfect for that. This is a song of commitment. It is a human being ravaged by the world’s raging, all out of ability to fix it themselves, just offering what is left to God to heal, transform and make new. 

That is how I had used it long before Omagh. That is how I use it still. On that day in Omagh, Juliet took it to even more powerful usage. I am proud of my part in the song’s story. But for my suggestion Julie Miller would not have rerecord it for the album I quoted at the top of this blog. There are small moments in your life where a quick thought and word in passing is given something beyond and makes its impact. Broken Things is such a story!


U2's POP - THE FACEBOOK REVIEWS

U2 Pop back cover

(The thread on my Facebook on my U2 Pop review status was so enlightening  thought it was worth blogging... Thank you for your contributions...)

 

Paul Bowman

I went to HMV on Grafton Street at midnight for that release. A much underrated U2 album.

This is the album Larry was never happy with... it was in many ways a rush job... tour booked etc before the album was ready... I seem to recall there was rumours of a remix or of them going back to finish it as they really wanted it to sound. I kinda hoped they might have done that for the 20yr anniversary.

Some very powerful songs on this one and it is one of my fave U2 records. The tour was a big, bright, brilliantly brash & sometimes bonkers (the Mirror Ball Lemon) exposé of the times. The visuals were stunning & only very recently equalled & bettered by the songs of innocence tour.

 

Cole Moreton

Insightful then as ever, Steve (response to my review), in terms of the lyrics. What you say very much needed to be said at that time too, as I recall. I still can't warm to the album though, it has its moments but overall it's a mess, the sound of a band getting a bit lost in the forest. Compare it to the clarity of All That You Cant Leave Behind. For me, it's one of those transitional albums they make like No Line On The Horizon, which contain a few jewels but are mostly waiting for the next big moment of clarity.

 

Michael Blythman

They used Howie B and others from trip-hop end of dance. An experiment - that worked!! The band don't like it but I love the feeling it still evokes in me. Powerful songs that pull on my heart: Mofo, Gone, Velvet and the will-power of Please. It's the orphan, the outsider, one of the Gnostic Gospels. I love this lost child.

 

Andy Carroll

It was my gateway to U2, released when I was 16. They had me at the first few bars of Discotheque. Still love it but there's no denying there's some weak stuff in there. And, as far as I can tell, the only album with a song with a vocal error left in (answers on a postcard!). A sign of the rush they were in…

 

Jonny Clark 

I went and bought it at midnight in that shop opposite the City Hall. Can't remember what it was called. 

I always loved Pop and still do. I think it was underrated. I prefer it to All That You Can't Leave Behind, which I always felt was too pop music for me. Pop had an edge and I always like U2's edge (as well as The Edge) and I'm less impressed with their mass marketable stuff. I love Gone, Please, Velvet Dress (Peter Rollins used to boom that out on repeat for hours in our old house), Angels, Staring at the Sun and Wake Up Dead Man.

 

Ferg Breen

Would love to hear this album remastered. The new mix version of Discotheque is far superior to the original one, same for Gone (I was never too fond of Staring at the Sun - acoustic version bores me to death) so I'd love to see that for all the tracks. 

I think it's a brilliant album. Easily up there for me in their catalogue. Although it's really not that 'pop' like, like Jonny said there are albums that are more 'pop' like. At this stage it nearly feels like an ironic title.

 

Andy Patterson

I was late to the party on this one. Bought it at a car boot sale in Bangor around 2002! It's one of their albums along with Zooropa that I've always struggled to get into. But remember hearing Wake Up Dead Man on the Slane DVD and being blown away by the vulnerability of it.

 

Sean Mullarkey

Pop has residency in our CD player in the car. Not because of dads evangelical zeal for more U2 converts but the fruit of my sons freewill purchase a year ago. Apart from the bits we have to watch out for when mum is on board, this album is a rollercoaster of raw emotion and energy. It took my sons musical taste development journey to reintroduce me to this gem. Thank God for pocket money well spent!!

 

Dave Francis

Enjoyed the first half of the album but for me it tails off badly in the second half. Start of their decline in my opinion with only fleeting glimpses of genius since.

 

Ivan Long

Still love the album and the concepts...

I remember driving home from a youth weekend and listening to the first play of Discotheque in the Top 40. The lads thought it was rubbish, but I loved it - it was as hard to listen to as The Fly, which whet the taste buds. Do You Feel Loved is a much ignored classic - driving and challenging both musically and lyrically. Miami was the only weak song on the album for me, but even that gets me some nights. The rest are fab. It is one of U2’s most sexual albums!

 

Joanna Mitchell

Pop is such an amazing album. It really upset me that U2 became unhappy with it, as it may be my favourite of all the albums. Well it is on some days, at least!


A FAIRTRADE PRAYER

FT Fortnight 17

I wrote this for FairTrade Fortnight some years ago. I tidied it up this week. If you are looking for something for a Church service on FairTrade. Feel free to use it.

Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:4)

Jesus thy Kingdom come/Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)

God, in heaven no one lies drunk in the fields 

God, in heaven everyone is satisfied with purpose

God, in heaven no one has more than anyone else

God, in heaven everyone’s child has enough

God, in heaven no one is treated as someone else’s

God, in heaven everyone has their own vine, to sit beneath.

 

So God we pray 

As Jesus taught us to pray

“Thy Kingdom come, 

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven”

 

So God help us to live on earth

Lives that answer Jesus prayer

May what we choose to buy in our weekly shop

Bring your Kingdom 

Instead of the Devil’s Kingdom

In our shopping bags

As it is in heaven.


OVER THE RHINE - OHIO

OHIO OTR

Superlatives are left impotent as I attempt to describe Over the Rhine’s sixth album proper, tenth if we count various rare track compilations and a Christmas album. I found myself gasping throughout at the melodies, the poetry, the spiritual insight and the reflections and echoes of my inner most grappling with how God interacts with this beautiful yet fatally tainted human race and we with God.

Then of course there is that voice. Karin Berquist has a voice that is seductive like no other, seducing your heart and your soul with a sound that is so otherworldly that you are not sure if your mortal ears can listen. Was it Julie Miller who stated that this was the voice that all of us would have in heaven; the women at least!

Musically this is as satisfying a sound as anything they have released before. Where the production on their first Back Porch release Films For Radio was chasing Dido and Sinead O’Connor into a little too modern, for me, pop this is ambient in the most gorgeously organic and acoustic of ways.

Linford Detweiler who along with that angelic voice is the other half of Over The Rhine has released two instrumental piano albums and here for maybe the first time the piano drives the entire thing, way forward in the mix, and navigated sweetly by a lot of pedal steel. That piano and that voice are a match made in heaven “a beautiful piece of heartache” as Latter Days on another album Good Dog Bad Dog suggests; a chemistry that explodes gently in aural ecstasy. 

The songs? Well What I’ll Remember Most, Jesus In New Orleans, Lifelong Fling, Long Lost Brother and Remind Us are simply the best songs these guys have ever written. People will say that a double album is a little ambitious in the days when you can easily squeeze 75 minutes onto a single disc and though you could probably pick out the thirteen tracks that would have made the single record cut you would not have wanted to have missed the trippy How Long Have You Been Stoned, the Gram Parsons country rock of Show Me or the Gospel Choir of the hidden track Idea #21 for anything. In fact a triple CD would have been justified. Bring it on!

As writers Linford and Karin have never been so up front about their faith. Jesus In New Orleans probably typifies their approach. The last place that you expect to find Jesus is where he is and just maybe that is exactly where we should have been looking all along. There is drink and doubt and angels being wrestled and there is war and rumours of war and death; a whole lot of death.

These guys were going through the pain of personal sorrow at the same time as America was in national mourning around September 2001. It seems that it has brought their writing face to face with mortality but also the life they have lived, are living and that in itself directs them to the destinations they need to set out for while they understand that eventually it will be home that they return to; in their case Ohio!

In the earth of their native state, Over The Rhine have made their ordinary every day world extraordinary. They have found a severe mercy in the midst of their personal as well as humanity’s deepest darkness. They have delved deep to find hope in the tragedies our darkness create. They have found a place of joy in the midst of the certain-to-come-our-way tears. They have used all their wrestling to weave poetry and music into a tapestry of utterly astonishing beauty. Ohio, be proud.

Over The Rhine play Fitzroy on March 30th 2017. Tickets available in Fitzroy or here http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/over-the-rhine-an-acoustic-evening-belfast-30-03-2017/event/3800518702F615ED


BONO'S BEATITUDES; WAVE OF SORROW - U2

U2 JT 1

Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt
For they shall inherit what's left of the earth
Blessed are the kings who've left their thrones
They are buried in this valley of dry bones

Blessed all of you with an empty heart
For you got nothing from which you cannot part
Blessed is the ego
It's all we got this hour

Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power
Blessed is the sex worker who sold her body tonight
She used what she got
To save her children's life

Blessed are you, the deaf cannot hear a scream
Blessed are the stupid who can dream
Blessed are the tin canned cardboard slums
Blessed is the spirit that overcomes

  • From Wave Of Sorrow by U2

 

Bono’s version of the Beatitudes appear at the end of a song he first attempted to write in 1985 but didn’t get finished until the Joshua Tree 20th Anniversary Edition in 2007. It had its origins in Bono’s first visited to Ethiopia as a result of Bob Geldof's Live Aid and although it would be some fifteen years before he would put his shoulder to the plough of transformation on that continent, the interest and consequent sorrow began during this first visit when he and his wife spent 6 weeks working at an orphanage. 

Wave of Sorrow is a fascinating and heart wrenching  song in which Bono takes Scripture and uses it to resource an almost journal entry about his own experience. Bono, a man who is obsessed with the Scriptures, draws on the story of the Queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9

Bono finds it hard to relate the barren wasteland of modern day famine ravaged Ethiopia with the one out of which the Queen of Sheba brings King Solomon rich spices, gold and precious stones. He then engages Solomon and the Psalm writing King David in a question; "What lyric would you sing?"  

It seems to be the question that Bono is asking himself as he attempts to make into a song lyric the experience that he and Ali are going through as mothers walk their babies as far as they have to to leave them down dead or in hope of last chance help. Waves of Sorrow is an attempt to put reality to lyric. It breeds more questions than answers; questions of abandonment, the questions of possibilities and questions of one's own involvement. 

Though the questions are left to ponder, Bono concludes the song by juxtaposing existing reality with the hope and belief of a greater one. The lyric, he attempts to write, finds its foundation in Jesus’ Beatitudes, the wise poetic beginning to the Sermon on The Mount found in the New Testament Scripture of Matthews 5. 

The song becomes Bono’s own version of the Beatitudes. In a somewhat ironic fashion, Bono has made certain to not exclude himself from the mix: "Blessed is the ego/It's all we got this hour" - as only a self proclaimed egomaniac could. 

The “Blessed is the sex worker” line will no doubt cause controversial reaction. That sense of shock evokes surely the same outrageous shock that the religious people of Jesus’ day would have had to those original Beatitudes. Perhaps the line is about a particular person that Bono and Ali met and were disturbed and impressed by. 

In the end, as in Jesus’ version, there is a resolution for the marginalised, forgotten and outcast. It is Bono’s hope, in this most appallingly disconcerting experience of his life.

 


ED SHEERAN - DIVIDE

Sheeran Divide

Ed Sheeran eh! What a phenomenon. He comes across as the ginger haired boy next door with a skateboard over one shoulder and a rickety guitar over the other. Yet, he can hold a stadium in the palm of his hand, with just that guitar and is selling units of product that only Adele or Taylor Swift can compete with. Ed Sheeran eh!

So, I am not sure whether it is a confession that I haven’t taken Sheeran seriously until now or that it is a confession that I am listening to him at all. Sheeran sits on the very thin edge between cool and pop. He sells too many units to be cool, has toured with Taylor Swift and written a song with Justin Bieber for goodness sake! 

Yet, eventually as I have been exposed to his songs over and over again something is beginning to tell me that this boy can write songs… and I am drawn to the craft of a song. So, this last weekend on two car journeys I listened to Divide right through with my daughters, at least twice. What did I make of that?

Well, I was very impressed. The first thing to strike me was Sheeran’s versatility. Few other artists dare to throw their canvass this wide! Yes, we have those rhythm ‘n rap songs that I thought was Sheeran’s default and don’t sound easy in my 55 year old ears. But there is so much more. Of course, as well as the rap there are the Sheeran ballads. How Would You Feel is a stone wall classic, right off the mark!

Then there is that single apparently written for Rhianna, Shape Of You. It is all popped up and the lyrics seem more scantily dressed pop chic than ginger haired busker. I can kind of understand why he kept it to himself but I am not quite convinced. 

Beyond rap, ballad and pop there is Irish trad and African rhythms; these are the most surprising. I didn’t see that coming! Of the two Irish songs  Galway Girl is a little contrived, though it will be an absolute feet stomping live favourite. Nancy Mulligan works better for me. It takes the traditional Irish ballad form of story telling, brings it into his own family’s story of a Protestant Grandfather and Catholic Grandmother and suggests the orange and green can come together after all. Hopeful message after the election we have just had!

As someone who travels a lot to Africa, and loves Paul Simon’s Graceland, my ears pricked up at the Ghanaian guitar rhythms of of Bibia Be Ye Ye. Like Vampire Weekend the sound sends a smile right through you and seems to bring the sun out instantly. However, I am not sure Sheeran does the African rhythms the justice with his lyrics that Paul Simon did.

It is well known that Sheeran took a lot of time off between his last two records, to get away from the pressure of the fame. Divide does sound like the record of a man who has been pondering, surmising, finding himself and asking questions about life and love. 

There’s even a little spiritual surmising going in here! He admits to starting to sing in Church. He’s aware of and resisting the devil’s temptation on Eraser. He’s aware that his songwriting gift and stage are God given on What Do I Know? Supermarket Flowers (about his Gran not his mum) is a song of belief in the eternal could be sung, and no doubt will be, at Church funerals and is perhaps his best melody and most emotional success on the record. It is one of the songs that cuts deepest for me having lost my mother recently. 

I am also drawn to Castle On The Hill for its reminiscing on teenage years. I found myself wondering what my castle was and who I was with. What Do I Know in its belief in music changing the world suggested a little of the 60s optimism is still alive in 21st Century pop. Right up my Songs for a Healthy Soul blog category alley!

All in all, Divide is a very good record. With the likes of Northern Ireland’s Jonny McDaid and Foy Vance weighing in on the writing credits how could it not be! Indeed he puts van Morrison on the jukebox on two different songs (Shape Of You and Galway Girl) and name checks Belfast as his Grandfather's hope city (Nancy Mulligan). It almost seems that Ed Sheeran wishes he was from our wee country!

In 2017 Sheeran is covering a lot of musical bases for my daughters. When I started listening to music in the early seventies we had Donny Osmond and David Cassidy covering the teenage pop thing, James Taylor doing the acoustic troubadour thing and then Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell were the songwriters of deep introspection. Sheehan it seems is having to wrap them all up into one.

Divide is more than a good attempt at that! That is my confession!


DREAMING OF MY SPONSOR CHILDREN - ON INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY

Stocies - 4 Girls!

It is International Women’s Day and I am drawn to all the campaigns for Girls Education. I was very quick to join the One Campaign’s social media campaign to promote it. My thoughts and prayers have been concentrating on Saphara, an NGO concentrating on girls’ education in India. We in Fitzroy are proud that it is headed up by one of congregation Christine Burnett and that many of our Fitzers have been out there to help develop that work.

Mostly today though I am dreaming of a “playground” in Onialeku Primary School, on the outskirts of Arua in West Nile, north west Uganda. I am standing at the corner of a Church building watching and listening to the noise of 250 plus children. I love that sound. I love seeing them all running around. When we are there, they are usually running towards us and I hear them call out to me, “Ya Ya… Ya Ya,” my African name! They all have English ones after all, so I took an African one!

After I take in the wide screen, I start to focus my eyes a little more carefully and reasonably quickly I see Jacqueline and Rachel. When Jacqueline spots me her serious little face lights up in the brightest smile. Rachel on the other hand is so shy that her little head turns in to her shoulder and I have to joust a little humour with her before I see and hear the joy of her laughter.

This is the school that Fitzroy funded, tithing our new halls expansion. Fitzroy sponsor 40 pupils in Onialeku. Jacqueline and Rachel are the Stockmans' sponsor children. The last two years we have got to spend time with them and look forward to seeing them again in July. Our girls simply love those girls. It is more than a few pounds in a sponsorship programme.

So, today on International Women’s Day I think of our sponsor children and send a Facebook message through their school principal Charles to tell them to keep coming to school every single day. He quickly replies that they are in school every single day. My heart leaps!

Before Bishop Isaac had a dream of a school for his neighbourhood Rachel and Jacqueline had no chance of an education. Now, the whole neighbourhood does and though that is good news for all, it is particularly good news for girls. Girls are the ones least likely to go to school and girls are the least likely to keep coming to school. Our sponsorship will mean that parents are more encouraged to keep Rachel and Jacqueline in education.

That is an obvious help for Rachel and Jacqueline and the children like them. As UNICEF puts it, “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”

What I realised too was that this is not just about Rachel and Jacqueline but about Uganda. I have come to realise that education is not just for the benefit of the pupil but the pupil’s education is vital for a transformed community and nation. Uganda needs teachers, doctors, lawyers, business leaders and so many other things. Through education, we can change the future. Maybe a future President of Uganda is running around my favourite couple of acres of earth at Onialeku Primary School today!

So, I am proud of Jacqueline, Rachel, their parents, Pastor David, Principal Charles, Nursery School head Alice and the Onialeku school management committee. I am proud of Fields Of Life who have built well over 100 schools all over East Africa. I am proud of Fitzroy for partnering. On International Women's Day, I am praying for all our Onialeku children, particularly the girls and most especially for Rachel and Jacqueline. 

http://fieldsoflife.org

http://www.saphara.org

https://girlscount.one.org