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May 2017


Ink Anthony Toner

I would be too lazy to liken Anthony Toner to James Taylor. Oh I know that he has cited Taylor as an influence and I know that the guitar and voice with crafted songs makes the comparison obvious. Indeed the early guitar playing of Alphabet could be Taylor

But… but when Toner’s voice comes in… it has a more convincing tone (ouch!). I have always found Taylor’s voice a little anodyne, almost too smooth. I cannot take copious amounts of it. I could listen to Toner all night. He doesn’t exaggerate his Northern Irish twang like a Duke Special or Juliet Turner but you know where he from. It welcomes you in.

Ink is a beautiful record. It is pastoral in a few ways. There are rivers and stars and moons. There is a sense of place. It is rooted in every day images. There are a few instrumentals that allow a voice without a vocal. 

Though Ink has that Tayloresque template throughout don’t miss the variety Toner can bring with the musicianship, understated yet careful. Listening will bring many smiles and much joy from deft touches of piano, hammond organ and different guitar riffs and runs and gentle picking. 

There are even a couple of spoken word pieces. The Candidate with its banjo picking rhythm and the poetic reminiscing of holding a loaded gun as a twelve year old on the wonderful Exit Wounds. There is humour and poignancy throughout, every emotion of life and love and loss. 

Anthony has said himself that Ink is his most personal record. There is a lot about his father and childhood. If like me and you are visiting your dad in a Residential Home then it will hit a soul spot.

The highlights for me are the utterly gorgeous road song Light From The Stars with its “And they ask us to say a few words/When we are speechless/sometimes the light from the stars is too late to reach us.” Oh my word! Sometimes The Night too has a deep melancholy, with beauty at the core of its heartache.

The Night Prayer of St Augustine has his dad reminisce about The Bible and has Anthony running across “such a succession of prophets of letters and Gospels and names/Corinthians, Romans and Hebrews, The Acts and Revelation and James.” 

Ink is a poetic work. Toner has always been a great lyricist but has he ever been better than this, less saying more as he purposely doesn’t go for two many verses packing the emotional impact into shorter songs.

The pièce de résistance is Alphabet, an extraordinary songs that does what it says in the title and takes us through every letter from A-Z. The very thought of a songwriter doing such an exercise frightens me that the contrivance will end up an over indulged embarrassment. 

Toner takes my fears and scatters them to the wind, writing the most perfectly worded lyric. From the first words, “When I hug my father/We hold on tight/If he forgets who I am well that’s alright/A is for Alzheimers…” to the final gentle punch, “When you enter this world/It’s what you bring/And it’s what you take with you/After everthing/Z is for zero!” It is an utter triumph of a song lyric. I kept waiting for the contrived couplet… but not a peep.

Ink is lovely in love and mood and lyric. Put it on at the end of a long day, even a long difficult day, and use it to reflect and allow its soulfulness to wash over you.

After a few plays, I ended up thinking much more Canadian Stephen Fearing than American James Taylor but honestly if those two could be likened to our very own Anthony Toner they should take it as a compliment.

THE MIAMI SHOWBAND MASSACRE - Stephen Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Miami Massacre

The Manchester bomb, killed 22, injured 59 and horrified us all. How could such evil inhumanity to humanity occur. The violence. The murder. The evil. The cold blooded disregard for innocent people.

That I was reading Stephen Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh’s book about the Miami Showband massacre at the time that the news of the bomb came in was very poignant. Almost twenty years after our Good Friday Agreement and twenty three after our Ceasefires it is hard to remember that bombs and killings were our everyday news headlines.

Stephen Travers story is a great reminder of a time that we cannot dare ever even think of going back to. On a warm July evening, after a gig in Banbridge, Stephen and his bandmates in the most famous Irish Showband of the 70s came upon a road check on the way home to Dublin. It was a familiar occurrence in Northern Ireland in 1975. 

They initially felt safe as they joked with who they thought were the security forces. The men who stopped them had UDR uniforms and one had an English accent. Moments later a bomb ripped their mini bus apart and shooting started. Three of the band were shot dead. Stephen was shot but was thought to be dead and left to somehow  survive. Des McAlea survived too. 

The bomb was being placed in their minibus by what was a UVF gang. The plan seems to have been that it would explode later. What the ultimate aim was is still shrouded in confusion though simply trying to make it look like the Miami were IRA terrorists might have been part of the sick plot. The band were mixed religion; four Catholics and two Protestants!

The bomb went off prematurely, killing two of the UVF gang and causing a senseless shooting spree by their colleagues before they escaped. Miami’s frontman Fran O’Toole was shot 20 times in the face and died along with Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy. 

Whatever the plan, the idea that a pop group could be targeted and murdered sent shock waves across the island. It would take a long time for the northern music scene to recover.

Miami’s bass player Stephen Travers with the help of Fetherstonhaugh’s set out on a journey that is brilliantly told in the book. Travers story has every aspect of a Troubles murder scene and the feelings that they all churn up. 

He survives, so you end up in hospital as he deals with his own injuries and news of the deaths of his friends. You then get to go to Belfast with a fearful Travers for the court case. Later he meets the policeman in charge of the investigation on the night with graphic photographs of the scene.    

Most important of all for Travers he gets to courageously sit across a table with a UVF veteran for five hours, asking questions and listening to what might have been in the killers minds.

I read slowly, outside of holiday times. It means I live in a story for days, sometimes weeks. For a few weeks I was in 1975 Northern Ireland. I was appalled at the inhumanity that our communities dolled out on our own humanity. The cold blooded and callous murder struck hard. The post trauma of the survivors I feel has never been highlighted enough. 

The telling of such stories are so vital. We need to remind ourselves of the of the evil and the inhumanity. We must work all we can to never go back. 

Travers and Fetherstonhuagh do this very powerfully. It is well written and researched book that grabs your attention in the opening pages and never lets you go.

Stephen Travers will be speaking at the 4 Corners Festival 2018... programme due any day.



It was a poignant episode (Series 3 Episode 6) of the television series Grantchester, all because of characters giving up their loves for their Church vocations. At least we got a marriage and healed marriage out of the same programme.

It was a spiritual moment half way through that got me surmising. Detective Inspector Geordie Keating has lost the plot, depression from marital problems leading to drunkeness and causing him to rough up a witness, in the case of a missing boy!

As they sit after the act, the minister, and centre piece of Grantchester, Rev Sidney Chambers starts talking about Geordie’s need for forgiveness. Sidney tells Geordie that God forgives him.

I don’t believe in your God

Well then I forgive you. As your friend I forgive you.

It is a fascinating dialogue and you can understand why someone like me would be surmising it.

Sidney sees at this moment the importance of his friend knowing that he is forgiven. He can tell that it is vital that his friend forgives himself. To get there he sees the importance of hear that he is forgiven from elsewhere. If that could not be God then at least a friend might do.

The Catholic Church’s sacrament of the confession of course does just this. In Grantchester Rev Sidney Chambers is Anglican but he still sees its usefulness. Many Protestant Churches in response to the abuses and misuses of the Confessional and indulgences, and whatever else, in the 16th century reacted strongly to the Confessional. Perhaps as in other things we threw a baby out with the bathwater.

The New Testament suggests that Sidney is on to something in his conversation with Geordie. We are rightfully always ready to quote 1 John 1:9 - “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

Where the Protestant has a belief that we don’t need a priest to confess our sins to or to tell us that we are forgiven but that we can go straight to God with our sins, James suggests that there is something helpful about this being done between humans: - “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

A few times, but never enough, in Fitzroy I have used a formula that I learned from my good friend Trevor Morrow. As minister in Lucan Presbyterian Church, outside Dublin, Trevor would always have had a confessional prayer in the worship service. 

After we had together read a liturgical confession he would have turned to the congregation, read 1 John 1:9 and declared in the name of Jesus, through this Scripture, that “your sins are forgiven.” It always struck my soul with deep meaningfulness to have my forgiveness uttered.

It is surely what Jesus meant at the end of the Gospel According To John - “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20: 21-13)

I am surmising that, filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus followers can articulate the forgiveness of the sins of others. They have not the power to forgive. God through the work of Christ does that. However, they have a ministry to help people know that they are forgiven and right here Jesus seems to see the potency of articulating the forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a struggle for many people. To hear that you are forgiven receives deep spiritual and psychological angst. Let us then “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16). It is a Biblical mandate not practiced enough in Protestantism. Let us be to each other what Sidney was attempting to be to Geordie in Grantchester. 


  Love Life Flesh Blood

I have been a fan of Imelda May for some time. Her songs Johnny’s Got a Boom Boom and Go Tell the Devil with Sharon Shannon have been on Family Favourite playlists. After Tribal though I wondered how long could the quiff and rockabilly revival template go on.

Well, look - no quiff! And like Samson, change the hair, transform the person. Where Samson lost his strength Imelda May has gained strength within and without.

Life Love Flesh Blood is like a grown up Imelda May, dealing with the aching of a heart, a delving deep to find identity. T-Bone Burnett has shifted the soundscapes and Imelda’s voice has gone from the almost novelty act of the rockabilly to a mature smoky jazz, soul deep Gospel and Chrissie Hynde-like rock voice.

The single Should Have Been Me is so catchy in its vulnerability and rage, it must be up there with the best songs of 2017. I am not convinced about its video which takes a political slant on what is a song about break up and divorce. This is Imelda’s Blood On The Tracks for sure.

Elsewhere the smoky vocal of Sixth Sense with Marc Ribot’s guitar giving it a slowed down country edged groove is beautiful and could sit on an Over The Rhine record.

For me When It’s My Time is obviously going to please. The Gospel sounding underlay of Jools Holland’s piano and then the Biblical lyrics: 


“Wash me in water, that flows from your side

And bathe me in blood, that you gave when you died

Carry me over, to the other side


When it's my time, Lord

When it's my time”


On the last song on the deluxe edition May takes us to an altar call:


“He said good people do bad things

Bad people do good

If the choice is between love and fear

I choose love, yeah

Ooh, I choose love”


Us Irish fight above our weight when it comes to singers like Imelda May and records like Life Love Flesh Blood. Imelda might have Mary Coughlan in her head as she takes this new direction. It’s certainly got Coughlan’s Irish realism, strength of womanhood and power of vocal emotion. It is exciting to see where it might go from here. 


Ednar and Prossy

Yesterday in Kampala, some dear friends were marching for Menstrual Hygiene Day which is actually today. 

Something that we find hard to talk about openly is a world justice issue. This summer Fitzroy’s Team to Onialeku Primary School will teach a programme called I am Girl which will educate the girls in the school about this very natural process, helping them with their hygiene thus enabling them to not miss school once a month, further aiding their education to take their place in the building of their nation.

As the Menstrual Hygiene Day website points out, “More than half of girls lose confidence during puberty with the onset of menstruation marking the lowest point in confidence. One of the key reasons is a lack of information. Education about menstruation changes fear to confidence.”

This past year Bono won Glamour Magazine’s Woman of The Year Award! Why? Because of his campaigning for the justice of women. In his speech, after receiving the award, Bono spoke of how his daughter Jordan reminds him constantly, “There is nowhere on Earth where women have the same opportunities as men, and that unless we address this problem, both women and men together—our world will continue down this misogynistic, violent, and impoverished path.”

U2 are using their Joshua Tree 30 Tour to promote justice and respect for woman. How incredible that they should need to in 2017! God, forgive us!

Poverty is balanced against women. Days like today’s Menstrual Hygiene Day are a contribution to a fairer and more just world. So my Fields Of Life colleagues in Kampala - Ednar, Prossy, Grace, Anne at al - we stand with you. Sorry, we were too far away to march yesterday. We will come in a few weeks and work alongside you.

Boys and Mestruation


A City United





It is the city where some of us were born

It is the city where some of us went to University

It is the city where some of our friend and family live, today

It is the city that our linen industry partnered for decades

It is the city that many of us wear on our soccer shirts

Red or sky blue


We have shouted your name

You have given us such joy

A City United.






What evil came to visit

It beggars all our belief

They murdered your children

I don’t mean your off spring

I mean your actual children

The youngest was 8 years old


Cold blooded

Life wasting murder.






The poisonous puss 

Of an evil depraved world 

Erupted from deep within us, 

Propelling disbelief, 



And desire for vengeance 

On anyone who could do this

Yet he had already had his horrific end, too

A criminal against humanity

And… a victim of extremist radicalisation.

Lord forgive us, 

Our intuitive urge toward’s revenge

Was a broken soul’s response

To this broken world. 






Blessed are the peacemakers

Love your enemies

Do good to those who hate you

Pray for those who ill treat you

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 

As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

Do not take revenge, 

If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

Do not be overcome by evil, 

But overcome evil with good.


Lord, this counter intuitive response

Is a redeemed soul’s response

To this broken world.

And is our only hope.






We pray or your healing

We pray for mothers and fathers and families who grieve

We pray for those who are injured

We pray for the trauma of so many

We pray for your security forces

We pray for your hospitals and health services

We pray for your counsellors and psychotherapists

We pray for the response of a city united

We pray for the response of the nation

We pray for your City Hall councillors and staff

We pray for your pastors and rabbis and imams

We pray for an interruption of grace

On those who would plan the next attack

We pray for those caricatured as terrorists who are suffering racal abuse

We pray for shalom on your streets

We pray for the kingdom to come to Manchester

As it is in heaven.


Father may Manchester know your compassion

Jesus may Manchester hear your words of peace

Holy Spirit may you be what Jesus called you to be, a comforter.  





And Minya, Egypt

And Damascus, Syria


Lord… break in… with grace and hope and peace.




Ray and Steve pointing

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy is a spectacular. We are delighted to have Dr Raymond Carr preaching. Raymond has been at Queens speaking under the title Thelonious Monk—Icon of the Eschaton: The Pneumatological Impulse in the Theologies of Karl Barth and James Cone. I mean Barth, Cone and Monk in the same sentence!

Ray is currently in Heidelberg Germany reflecting on Luther and the Reformation. In conversation yesterday over coffee as well as Monk, Barth and Cone he waxed lyrical about U2 and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, one of whom he bumped into in Malibu.

In Fitzroy, Ray will be speaking about Being Confronted by the Presence of God (God’s Holiness) Isaiah 6:1-8. Ray is an engaging communicator. It’s going to be electric. We have a worship band bringing some jazz sounds to the party and Caroline Orr's amazing voice. I heard them rehearsing and they sound unbelievable. I am very excited! 

I will be praying about the week that has been. “Lord, Manchester…”


Manchester Bomb

The Manchester bomb hit me with that awful hollow thud of horror at a moment when I was reading and listening to thoughts of violence and peacemaking. Now, I hear you say, it would seem that you are always surmising peacemaking Steve. So let me begin with the violence.

I have been reading Stephen Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh’s book The Miami Showband Massacre and that has had me face to face with the detail of another bomb blast, murder and the aftermath. 

On a warm July evening, after a gig in Banbridge, the most famous Irish Showband of the 70s come upon a road check, so familiar in 1975 Northern Ireland. They initialy feel safe as they joke with who they thought were the security forces before a bomb rips their mini bus apart and as they run three are riddled with Loyalist terrorist bullets. Twenty three years after our Ceasefires we should never forget the horror of such inhumanity of humans to one another.

As I worked through Stephen Travers story of being injured that night and surviving to give testimony in court and then meet members of the UVF that carried it out, my friend Gary Burnett did an evening in Fitzroy on the New Testament book of Romans. It was one of the most powerful Fitzroy evenings among many as Gary opened the Scripture text to us with robust scholarship, careful textual exegesis and spiritual insight. It was a revelation that at the core of Paul’s letter to the Romans was peacemaking and non violence. 

As Gary led us literally onto the streets of First Century Rome and led us into the Christian house groups meeting there I became aware of the everyday violence of New Testament times. This wasn’t a world where people were knocked sideways by events like the Manchester bomb. Violence, and a brutal kind of violence, was every day reality. 

The Gospels and other New Testament literature needs to be read in the awareness of such a context. What Gary went on to teach from Romans and beyond was therefore provoking me as to how followers of Jesus should respond to such violence. Twenty fours later and that violence had invaded my reality.

Gary took us on a journey into the heart of the prophets and Jesus and particularly Paul’s attempts to bring peace between two different Church factions in Rome. That Paul uses God of Peace seven times whereas God of Love is used just once and God of Judgement just once too had my attention.

Taking us back to the prophets, Gary helped us to see God’s Covenant of Peace in Ezekiel and Isaiah which would have influenced Paul’s thinking.

Of course one of the biggest errors within Evangelicalism has been to constrict the breadth of God’s grace and love and thus peace to the relationship between God and human. This has allowed the Church for decades, if not centuries, to ignore the peacemaking imperative at the very centre of discipleship. 

As Mennonite Willard Swartley puts it “the notion of making peace between humans and God and between formerly alienated humans is so central to the core of Pauline doctrinal and ethical thought that it is impossible to develop a faithful construal of Pauline thought without peacemaking and/or reconciliation at the core.”

It makes sense. The first chapters of Genesis tell us that many relationships have been broken. Human and God. Human and human. Human and creation. The redemptive story culminating in Jesus, that takes us through incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and beyond has to be about the redemption of all those relationships. If we are about the business of God then all three need to be vital.

That this peace mandate was forged in a world of every day violence is even more remarkable and subversive. 

The violent bombing of children and their parents and guardians at a pop concert in Manchester rankled deep, the puss of an evil and depraved world erupting out of us, propelling disbelief, anger, rage and desire for vengeance at those who could do such things. That is a broken soul’s response to a broken world. 

Jesus calls us to something radically different; a redeemed response. That is not so easy. It is counter intuitive. It seems too soft and inane, yet is as tough and world changing as any bomb or bullet. 

Jesus put it succinctly and without get out clauses in a world where his people were being ruled with the violence of crucifixion - “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” (Luke 6: 27-29)

Paul spoke it into divided Churches at the capital of a violent Empire - “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 17-21)

The bomb last Monday night in Manchester is only one of many across the world this year. It is our everyday violence. It is almost impossible to prevent with security. It is a new kind of terrorism but the response is far from new.

Jesus was Prince of Peace, heralding in a Covenant of Peace. This will take imagination and long term resolve. It will need us to dream dreams and see visions. It will need us to go back and be enlightened to Jesus call to peacemaking. Blessed are the peacemakers. It is our only hope. I am in!!!


Girls in OPS

I wrote this on our first trip to Uganda in 2015. Jonny Fitch turned into the catchiest of songs and added the "My name is not Muzungu" line. It is a reasonably simple poem BUT, for me, expresses a lot of depth. The last lines might not be the best I have ever written but, when I shared them with my brothers and sisters in Onialeku Primary School at its opening in August 2015, they became my favourite!


Africa, I am waving at you

And you always wave back and smile

Roads teeming with fascination

Red dust mile after red dust mile.


Africa, I am staring at you

All the wildlife through the trees

Elephants under the mangos

The smell of your welcoming breeze.


Africa, I am singing with you

Your joyful songs of being free

Ubuntu, what a great refrain

Without you, I can’t be me.


Africa, I am praying for you

Water and education and health

That you don’t get all our poverty

With justice, peace and wealth. 


My name is not muzungu

We may have a different skin

But all of our blood is red

The same grace colour

That Jesus bled.


U2 and Masakela

When Joshua Tree arrived in March 1987 the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Lookin For got a lot of the attention. Surely here was the song that proved that Bono and his Irish mates were not Christians and if they had ever been they had backslidden now. How could a Christian not have found what he is looking for?! Of course it was the usual non thinking Christian sensationalist tabloid discussion.

Long before I ever thought of writing a book about U2 I had debated this song across the world with Christians of whom author Os Guinness once stated “would die rather than think. In fact most do!” Those who debated with me the lack of U2’s faith missed two things. First, they missed the Bible where in Philippians 3 St. Paul adds to his declaration that he has found by faith a glorious righteousness that is beyond the law – “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” St. Paul it seems still hadn’t found what he looking for either!

The second thing the non thinking believers missed was the lyrics of the song itself – “You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/You know I believe it.” Such a succinct theology of the work of Christ was number 1 in the USA for four weeks and Christians missed it. For a cheap laugh in my talks about the song across the world I have added that when the darling of Christian music Amy Grant got to Number 1 she was singing “Baby Baby!”

Those same Christians might have missed what I was most inspired by on my first listening to I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Joshua Tree was released as the rock world turned the heat up on its protest with South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Since U2’s previous record Unforgettable Fire, Steve Van Zant’s Artists United Against Apartheid’s star strewn single Sun City had been followed by an album that featured Silver and Gold that Bono had recorded with Rolling Stones’ Keith Richard and Ronnie Wood; a U2 version would appear as a b-side for Where The Streets Have No Name. When I first heard I Still Haven’t Found... the lines “I believe in the kingdom come when all the colours bleed will bleed into one” took me immediately to South Africa. These lines described what the Kingdom was about, apartheid gone as every race and colour becomes one.

Twenty years later I would sit in Cape Town’s District Six Museum reflecting on how apartheid’s ideology, built on a Christian theology, could so smash the Kingdom Of God vision that St. John had in the Book of Revelation, as they bulldozed a huge chunk of Cape Town to divide white from black. U2’s vision of God’s Kingdom was an antithesis and was built on those lines that followed, “You broke the bonds, loosed the chains, carried the cross and my know I believe it.” U2’s Kingdom was no ethereal pie in the sky but was built on the life and work of Jesus.

On U2’s Fan Club giveaway U22 can be found a potent, perhaps definitive version of the song and these ideas. On this lavish souvenir package of the U2360 Tour we are treated to 22 live highlights. During their gig in the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg on 13 February 2011 U2 welcomed Hugh Masekela, South African trumpet playing legend and exiled anti-apartheid campaigner into the band for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

For me it is a spine tingling moment; a political and spiritual tour de force. As Masakela's black jazz trumpet blends into U2’s stadium rock groove the Kingdom of God of the words becomes sound to dwell for a moment or two among us. Masakela, once exiled, once oppressed by injustices because of the colour of his skin, blasts that trumpet out as Bono sings "I believe in the Kingdom come, where all the colours bleed into one" and for a song at least we have all found what we are looking for.

It is the holy beauty that the best of art should always be. It gives us a vision of a better way and a foundation to build the world that we still haven’t found but by God’s grace we continue to look for. It is a wonderful version of a wonderful song to listen to on Africa Day!