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July 2017



I was a U2 doubter. Our seats were very far back. It was a great view BUT could a band fill Croke Park. Noel Gallagher struggled a little to reach us. My daughters wanted to come for the first time. It was a lot of money. 


The Whole Of The Moon had us all on our feet. Dublin audiences know every word of every song and sang it like it was a U2 hit. Then Larry appeared, walked down the run way and took his seat. Two thumps at that drum, the distinctive military beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday and my heart was boomed. When Edge touched his guitar my soul leapt out of my body. My body was back on earth as Adam’s bass grounded the whole thing. Bono’s “I can’t believe the news today…” and my head is reeling. 


Oh my goodness. How do they do that? Without question our familiarity and love, with these beats and riffs and words is so deeply ingrained, helps but these guys do something that few other band can do. Doubts blown away in 85,000 voices and hand claps!


The first few songs have no visuals. This is pre Joshua Tree. They didn’t get to the top with all the visuals and stage sets they are now renowned for. Before all of that there was this visceral soul. We remembered through New Year’s Day, Bad and Pride. It wasn’t at Joshua Tree that they suddenly hit their groove. The U2 juggernaut was picking up pace for years and then…


Then the big screen kicked in. The biggest you have ever seen. The red sky behind that big Tree. The band walked back up the ramp onto the big stage and the atmospheric Where The Streets Have No Name took us right into he heart of why we were here.


Later they would finish with the more recent hits. Beautiful Day. Vertigo. One. BUT tonight was about an eleven song set list from 1987 that sounded as vital, if even maybe more so, than it did back then. Thirty years on and I had forgotten how good this album is. I maybe never really did understand. 


Yes, there was Streets, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You and Bullet the Blue Sky. Yet, they were all done after four songs. What struck me tonight was how darn good every other song was. The tenderness of Running To Stand Still, the pop power of In God’s County, the loose, near busk of I Trip Through Your Wires, the spiritual sensitivity of One Tree Hill. Oh My. How I had forgotten. A Salvation Army Band on the screen adds to Red Hill Mining Town, never performed live until his tour.


It was Exit though that was worth the price of the ticket. Goodness me. Until now Anton Corbijn’s films and photo shots were spectacular but on Exit everything went overload. The sound that Edge pumps through his guitar seemed to light something in Corbijn’s imagination and the visuals duelled with the guitar to simply bombard with dramatic stimuli. Mothers Of The Disappeared brought it home with cathartic lamenting prayer.


Whatever the songs before or after the Joshua Tree songs this is why we were here. It has taken us 30 years to play and understand them Bono said. They played them like the record was out next week. What surprised me was the lack of frill. There were no elongated climaxes. Yeh, we had a wee bit of Paul Simon and two Bowie snippets elsewhere but what we got on the Joshua Tree set were the songs. Bang, bang, bang with all the shifts of shade and sound. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m  Looking For even seemed a little short.


The cerebral was not spelled out. You had to have ears to hear. Put them in their context and ponder… maybe for days yet. The 50s film clip of a Western with a character called Trump building was around the town to keep it safe was the only contextualising clue. It was funny but powerful as that led us to that Exit apocalypse! 



Miss Sarajevo with the refugee face being crowd surfed like communal prayer and the celebration of woman in Ultraviolet (Light My Way) came with the obligatory U2 preach. Subtle, beautiful and perfectly done. BUT I cannot over emphasis the power of Joshua Tree. Performed with conviction. Lifted by Corbijn’s genius. Left to linger. What a record! What a band! What a night!

ONE MAN, ONE GOD; The Peace Ministry Of Fr Alec Reid - MARTIN MCKEEVER

Fr Alec book

(this is my review and reflection on the new book about Fr Alec Reid. It was published last week in the Irish News, the first in a new column that Fr Martin Magill and I will be writing regularly)

I was at a planning event for a Christian NGO. It was solely Protestant leaders. One of the exercises had us all write on a sheet, along one wall, the events of the world and of Northern Ireland since 1968. We were than asked in our groups to analyse the timeline. I immediately noticed the glaring omission. Fr Alec Reid did not appear anywhere.

That a group of Christian leaders would overlook the most significant Christian contributor to the peace process is profound. It sadly betrayed the Church’s complicity in our Troubles. Many in the room might not have defined Fr Alec as a Christian; he was a Catholic! It has been this cold war across denominational theological differences that has mirrored the violence on our streets and made the Christian Churches impotent in their vocation as peacemakers.

Last month a new book about Fr Alec’s life was published called One Man, One God and written by Martin McKeever, Redemptorist Professor of Moral Theology in Rome. McKeever’s book is divided into three; the storyline of Fr Alec’s life and peace ministry, tributes to Fr Alec’s life and finally some of Fr Alec’s own documents and writings. 

McKeever’s genius is to take second and third parts of the book and weave a sharp theological commentary of Fr Alec’s ministry in that first biographical section.

When I closed the book I stared at the photo on the back cover. It is that iconic photograph of a shocked priest lying over the bodies of those British soldiers on that tragic March day back in 1988. In that photograph I found everything McKeever teaches us through Fr. Alec’s life. 

In this photo we see a servant of Christ, a man following Jesus. He is following Jesus on the bloody streets of the conflict around him. This is incarnation; God coming alive, through his servant, in our neighbourhoods. Fr Alec believed that he needed the Holy Spirit and that everywhere that dialogue was happening the Holy Spirit was there. In his pocket, in that photograph, is the letter from Gerry Adams to John Hume with the conditions to start talks towards peace, peace that came slowly through the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning many years later. The soldiers blood was on the envelope. It is a remarkable story. 

Fr Alec had his political preferences but selflessly, and most inspirationally for us all, it was his pastoral compassion that dictated how he lived - “My interest is not political but pastoral and moral… My only aim is to help those who, if the present situation continues, will be killed, injured or imprisoned over the next few weeks and months.” Here was a man as prepared to put his life on the line to save two British soldiers as he was the hunger strikers he ministered to in 1981. 

Anyone who claims to in any way stumble or tumble after Jesus would benefit from this book’s reflection on Fr Alec Reid’s life, faith and ministry.


The Girls In Onialeku

Today I am leaving poem. I love it! 

I wrote this in the summer of 2016, after I came home from Uganda. It was a reflection on our visit but was written with the impetus of my friend Alain Emerson about to leave on his trip. Alain and I have shared our vision for, and love of, Africa for over fifteen years. Having led him on a team to South Africa, it was Alain, and his late wife Lindsay, who led me to Uganda.

Alain asked me, as he regularly does, about what music to download for his trip. My daughter Jasmine had introduced me to Needtobreathe and I suggested them. Their song Difference Maker started running around my head as I thought about Alain’s trip. He told me he would kiss the African sun for me!

I then started thinking about Alain’s journey and mingled my prayers for his trip with my hopes for the trip we had just had. I have to credit the ‘mutual poverty’ line to Brad Miller on a long car journey across Indiana.

So off we go again. What I am most looking forward to is allowing that African sun, through all our friends at Fields Of Life and Onialeku Primary School, to kiss us!

In the end it is a declaration of mission, of giving and receiving God's love in Africa, at home or wherever.




Her last seed fell so hard

The cruelest smite of all

Then bursting through the pain

A harvest of light for all

Go help make an eternal difference

Turn around every fallen inference

Give the children back their innocence

And kiss the African sun.


Throw and scatter and sow

Find more seeds in the cup

Watch harvest yield a harvest

Curse all the weeds ripped up

Love until we all know grace has won

Burn until hopelessness is over and done

Leave nothing out there after the run

And kiss the African sun

Oh kiss that African sun


They say that we are rich

But we are only rich in shillings

Oh the wealth of their resilience

Innovation and being willing

They say that they are poor

But they are only poor in shillings.


Go and share our mutual poverty

Learn what mutual wealth can do

Bring back home the blessings of God

And let the Africa sun kiss you

Let that African sun kiss you!


AirporT Steve

Airport Steve! He is quite a character! Slip my wife a wee glass of sparkly red and she will have you belly laughing with incidents when Airport Steve has given her funny stories in hindsight, but probably sent her mad at the time!

So, tomorrow evening, Steve is back in the airport. Our Fitzroy Team will first of all take the bus to Dublin before getting on a flight to Addis Ababa. From there on Tuesday morning we will take another flight to Entebbe in Uganda. That is all enough time and interesting places for Airport Steve to appear! There are rumours that Addis Ababa Airport might be a fertile space for him!

“What does Airport Steve do?” I hear you ask. Well, there was an incident in Toronto when after queuing for almost an hour to get Janice a plate of chips, I turned and covered them in salt, before realising that it was actually sugar. “Just flick it off and eat them!” was my embarrassed cry as I returned to a peckish Janice and a four month old Caitlin.

Then, Durban airport on a flight to Cape Town. We had been bored for maybe two hours, writing postcards to people we didn’t even know. Then, just as we were about to board, off I went and came back to Janice with two big 99 ice creams. We walked out onto the tarmac and boarded a bus to our plane. Bags over shoulders we squeezed into the crowded bus in a 30 degree heat with ice cream dripping down our hands. Janice laughed.

At Heathrow on our way to a sabbatical in Vancouver we were again waiting for a long time. We had left home early and I was reckoning it would be a while before we got the first in-flight meal so I went off hunting for sandwiches. As I returned I could see Janice waving and realised that families with young children had been called early. I then struggled onto the plane with all the bags and sandwiches. As I sat down I could see a stewardess waving down the plane with a couple of packs of sandwiches. I had to leave the sandwiches down as I put our bags in the overhead bins! She eventually found a red faced Airport Steve!

This blog probably doesn’t do justice to the stories, stories that in fairness even Janice’s exaggerations don’t do justice too. I travel a lot on my own but it is travelling with others that Airport Steve appears. Students and staff during our decade going to Cape Town will tell their own stories of when I lost the plot when we were charged for over weight, knowing that as a team we were well under. All kinds of Airport Steve moments.

So, tomorrow Airport Steve will be off again. 17 of us heading to Arua in West Nile on the north west edge of Uganda, less than ten miles from Congo and around 30 from South Sudan. We won’t get there until Wednesday night. Then on Thursday we will be heading to the children, teachers and community of Onialeku Primary School. I hope to blog regularly so if you are interested, follow the blog. There might be Airport Steve stories to tell… and as for Mosquito Net Steve, well he is a whole other chapter! 


Stocki Love Them Uns

My last preach in Fitzroy before our mission trip to Uganda and then holidays. The Lectionary passages from Matthew 10 and Jeremiah 28 seem to be suggesting two things... Poverty and Peace. We will be looking at welcoming and being welcomed, the latter making us vulnerable missioners. We will be looking at peacemaking and the long slow burn of it and the theology of it as through the eyes of Fr Alec Reid, not always seen as a prophet on the Protestant side off the wall!

Worship by Chris Blake and the spiritually soothing voice of Norman McKinley. Come on down!



Canada 150

I love Canada, My uncle Bobby moved there in the late 50s. I have visited often. I am a Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jays fan! As a family we spent the best three months of our lives in Vancouver in 2005, on a sabbatical at Regent College. Over decades I have been in love with Canadian music... The song is still important! Here is my favourite artists doing great songs to celebrate Canada's 150th Birthday! Wish I was there!

Joni Mitchell - A Case Of You from Blue

Daniel Lanois - Shine from Shine

Neil Young - Powderfinger from Rust Never Sleeps

Arcade Fire - Everything Now from Everything Now

Blue Rodeo - New Morning Sun from In Our Nature

Bruce Cockburn - Wondering Where The Lions Are from Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaw

Eric Angus Whyte - Lost In This Song from Always Home

KD Lang - Helpless from Hymns Of The 49th Parallel 

Chantal Kreviazuk - God Made Me from Under These Rocks and Stones

Barenaked Ladies - Be My Yoko Ono from Gordon

Feist - Mushaboom

The Big Sea - End Of The World from Play

Spirit Of The West - Take It to The Source from Labour Day

The Band - Acadian Driftwood from Northern Lights, Southern Cross

Stephen Fearing - Every Soul's a Sailor from Every Soul’s a Sailor

Carolyn Arends - There You Are

Steve Bell - Lord Of The Starfields from My Dinner Bruce

Mary Margaret O’Hara - You Will Be Loved Again from Miss America

Blackie & The Rodeo Kings - Lord, Give Me Shelter from Kings and Queens

Cowboy Junkies - Sun Comes Up It’s Tuesday Morning from The Caution Horses 

Holy Cole - The Briar and The Rose from Temptation

Leonard Cohen - Suzanne from Songs Of Leonard Cohen

Melissa Hill - Sunshine from Melissa Hill Live

Robert Robertson - Broken Arrow from Robbie Robertson

Ron Sexsmith - Speaking With The Angels from Ron Sexsmith

Sarah McLachlan - Bring On The Wonder from Laws of Illusion 

Colin Linden - Sad and Beautiful World from Sad and Beautiful Place

Diana Krall - Prairie Lullaby from Glad Rag Doll