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October 2017

September 2017


Beki Whins...

I remember discovering Beki Hemingway's song Sinsick on a sampler CD back in the late 90s. I loved it and played it on my radio show. When Beki got in touch to say that she was coming to Belfast, I took a chance and booked her for a gig. 

She duly arrived with her guitar toting husband Randy Kerkman. On her first evening my wife Janice invited her to sing for a Chaplaincy girls group in our front room. I remember standing outside the door listening to see what her voice was like. Was the risk worth it? And then… she sang… oh my goodness. What a voice!

Beki and Randy took a number of year out of music. Randy became a sheriff in Denver, Colorado. Then, their itchiness for adventure and inability to settle brought them to Wexford - well I did say adventure. Just as the music started to get its time again, cancer struck and Beki was going through surgery and radiation treatment. It has been a journey with a, thank God, healthy destination.

So, Whins and Weather has been written in a bit of a storm. My World Is Out There gets them travelling, The Shape You Left Me In and Is This All are about illness, Because is about the love, earthly and divine that gets us through it and Thank You For The Rain is the most joyous four minutes of thanksgiving you will hear inside or outside of Church in a very long time. Duke Special even makes a wee cameo in the wonderfully  quirky finale Tourist

Whins and Weather is the music triumph for a couple who have conquered some of life’s most serious gales. Hemingway has found her Americana space and moved into it. She has never written a more stronger collection of songs. Kerkman has has never been a more driving and at the same sensitive musical companion. 

Whins and Weather is a book of Psalms. There is doubt and hurt and faith and celebration. If Maria McKee had made the follow up to You Gotta Sin To Get Saved that we all wanted it might have sounded a whole lot like this! 


Uganda 17 17 team shot

On Sunday morning (11am) in Fitzroy we are going back to the summertime. The Uganda Team who called themselves #uganda1717, because there were 17 of them in Uganda in 2017, will be feeding back their amazing experiences.

If you in any way supported this team financially, prayerfully or just by taking a real interest then we invite you to come along and see and hear what happened in July on those couple of acres of Primary School on the edge of Aura, on the very north west corner of Uganda.

There will be video and original songs written by myself and Jonny Fitch about the trip. They are looking and sounded amazing!

There will be sharing by everyone on the team of their highlights. Expect inspiration in our souls, love in our hearts, tears in our eyes and chairs on our heads (you need to be there for that one!).

There will be an explanation of what we were doing… drama, craft, knitting, sex education, soap making, guitar lessons, sport, singing and preaching.

We will tell you about opening the new fence and calling it Richard and commissioning the well too!

I will be bringing it all together to ask why a Church should seek to get involved in a partnership in this particular way. What are the benefits in Onialeku? What are the benefits for those who go? What are the benefits for those in Fitzroy who might never go? (see how I use “might” there!!!) Why should it be taken as read that we go again next year? Where does it fit in to 10:10 living?

It will be a fast paced, stimulating and inspirational morning. 

We would love to see you there!

In the evening (7am) in our Welcome Area (use Rugby Road side door) we will have one of our elders, Michael Fitch, speak on 222. Why are all the Fitch family car number plates 222? Why on the way to Arua did we have to stop at the 222 miles stone to get a photograph.

Well, come along on Sunday night and see the spiritual depth and simple discipleship pragmatism of Michael’s 222!! I heard Michael preach this in Arua and on East African radio. It fits beautifully on the evening after our Uganda feedback and with Fitzroy’s new 10:10 in Ten sermon series but even if you are not a regular Fitzroy member this will be a spiritually helpful evening!

Again… ALL Welcome!


Killers W W

You don’t want to be lazy when listening to The Killers. Wonderful Wonderful comes across with immediate surface glitter and gloss. It is all shiny, pop ridden rock and the lead off single The Man comes across all menacing funk with arrogant strut.

A wee bit of attention and there is so much more to hear. I have been looking at that single, that I hated on first listen, as a follow up to the conversation they started on their prophetically challenging single Human back in 2008. 

In Human The Killers interrogate our modern society with the ultimate question, who are we as human beings? “Are we human, or are we dancer?” The Man is a dancer and the whole of Wonderful Wonderful could be seen as an exploration of the things that get in the way of our humanhood. 

There’s a lot of brokenness on Wonderful Wonderful. Singer Brandon Flowers’ wife has been going through depression and it makes these songs vulnerable and raw, no more so than when the Flowers children sing “Can't do this alone/We need you at home” on the Brian Eno co-write Some Kind Of Love, maybe my favourite song on the record.

Rut is written specifically about Flowers’ wife, from her perspective:


“Can't keep my mind off of every little wrong

I see the mouths are open, but I can't hear the song

I've done my best to fill 'em, but the cracks are starting to spread

Hey I won't blame you baby, go on turn your head”


In Life To Come, Flowers suggests maybe to his wife, himself or all of us  - “Just drop kick the shame”.

The Calling is be the song of redemption here or at least the invitation of it. Starting out with Woody Harrelson reading The Gospel According To Matthew’s like an old style preacher the song, with a tough guitar groove, is about a son seeking redemption for his father. There’s more of the barriers we all have to being fully human but God seems to be calling to some fixing:


"But Daddy did you think that you could outrun the Holy Spirit (here come the calling)

Lie, cheat, steal, hope they fix it all up in post"


Influenced by a painting of Caravaggio that is called The Calling of St Matthew we get a hint at where salvation might come:


“Follow the sun out of the night

Brother, just lean into the light

You wanna be sure, I’ll give you sight

Brother, just lean into the light.”


Personally I prefer the second half of Wonderful Wonderful. In the last 5 or 6 songs The Killers sound light on the ear but ring truth around the depths of your soul. 


Two Harvests

This is an avocado tree in Onialeku Primary School, near Arua, Uganda. It is a shade from the sun. It has the school in the near distance. It has two harvests on it, at the same time. That got me thinking. So here's a travel poem with all the wonder and injustice of Uganda. Then there is a man's vision. Bishop Isaac Aswa. A school. We were then by Fields Of Life connected in the vision... the hope... the blessing...


Boda boda spewing out diesel

Tuko Tuko with a sugar cane load

Truck is struggling up another hill

On this straight straight road

Windows closed to those baboons

As dangerous as much as they tease

Long horns ignorant of their preening

Oh the beauty of that beast.


Ramps like Sleeping policeman

Bum dancing on the back of the bus

And everyone smiling and waving

Laughing at the soft western state of us

Boy in rags with a scampering goat

Banquet laid out on the other side

Fill your plate with Kalo and beans

For the road isn’t that wide.


I see a bishop sitting neath an avocado

Two harvests growing on the same tree

Some of the dreams that we are living

And the ones we are still to see

Some of the dreams already happening

And the ones yet still to be

Two harvests growing

On the very same tree.


There’s a woman with a harvest on her head  

There’s another with sticks in her hair

The wonder fills a thousand photos

There’s a million pictures too unfair

There’s a school in the corner of an acre

The sweet sound of children learning

God’s grace and I’m in on the blessing

Of a vision that comes slowly burning.


I see a bishop sitting 'neath an avocado

Two harvests growing on the same tree

Some of the dreams that we are living

And the ones we are still to see

Some of the dreams already happening

And the ones yet still to be

Two harvests growing

On the very same tree.


Van Roll Punches

Someone told me once that CS Lewis, from the same square mile as Van, had said that we all leave our own gardens, take off and search the world but we all end up back in our own garden. I have no idea how true that is of most people but Roll With the Punches suggests Van Morrison has come all the way home.

When he started out in the early 60s there was just the Blues Club on the weekend. Morrison actually set up a blues club in Belfast at The Maritime Bar and wanted nothing more than playing great R & B, Gospel and blues with great players. 

Unfortunately for this shy, introverted, only child from East Belfast with an astonishing talent, a commercially fertile industry of rock and pop was about to explode across the world and he would find himself having to play in personas and places that he never coveted. It would get him labelled grumpy when it was actually just a miss match of industry and personality.

Fame is the song here that deals with that dilemma. Morrison has often ranted about the industry but here he is more objective, analysing the damage that fame can be and how the press can stoke up something that might not be at all healthy. 

So, here Van is in his seventies, ignoring the fame and doing what he always wanted. He is playing around Irish hotels, to crowds of just a few hundred, with great players and backing singers. 

Roll With The Punches is Morrison taking that fun into the studio. You can almost feel the levity between the notes. Van is enjoying himself. All his influences from those early 60’s days, Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Mose Allison and even Sister Rosetta Tharpe. In among that he adds his own songs about the usual subjects, that uneasiness with fame in Fame and the spiritual on Transformation. After the very satisfying co-write with legendary English lyricist Don Black on Keep Me Singing track Everytime I Hear A River they join up again on the title track here.

Van himself has spoken about how performance was the key to these recordings and boy did he get performances. Old pals like Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe and Paul Jones add maturity of craft but Jeff Beck stands out. Rarely has the guitar played such a major role in a Van Morrison record and Beck's drive and drama with his finger dancing dexterity adds wonderful grace notes. Stuart McIlroy’s piano playing on How Far From God deserves a mention too!

Above all of that there is the one and only Van Morrison himself. He uses that instrument that is his voice in ways that a septuagenarian has no right too. He reaches high and wide and goes deep soul down. Check out Bring It All Home To Me if you doubt me! 

Whatever Van Morrison fans think about Roll With The Punches, and wherever they will argue it sits in the best records in his peerless catalogue, they need to realise the joy that it must have brought to Morrison. This is him at his deepest gladness. Maybe the deepest gladness of his entire career. The only thing I would change is the awful cover!

MARK ME SAFE (Conduit of a Merciful Wife)

Jani and I Lake Victoria

I was spending too much time chattering after a 4 Corners festival committee meeting and had failed to do my chores for a large event we were running at the Manse. Fr Martin was concerned about me and I told him I would mark myself safe as they do in hurricanes and earthquakes. The laugh got me thinking about the safety of this woman's arms...


Mark me safe

In the embrace of she’s forgiven me

Mark me safe

Grace from all the years living with me

Mark me safe.


Mark me safe

She’s the calm when I am lost and late

Mark me safe

With airport Steve at the Departure Gate

Mark me safe


We all have our foibles and quirks

Deep cracks and eccentric charms

When mine get on the nerves of the world

Mark me safe in her arms.


Mark me safe

When in grief’s daunt she takes my hand

Mark me safe

In the wildness of belief she understands

Mark me safe.


Mark me safe

When the empire and my soul collides

Mark me safe

When the Church’s magisterium derides

Mark me safe.


When it seems I confuse the God of heaven

With the soul mate love of my life

Never underestimate the Spirit’s faith

In the conduit of a merciful wife.


Jed at window

When Ricky Ross played The Empire Music Hall in Belfast back in November 2015 I was taken by a new song. It was about a dog… and God. I wrote this in my review of that gig:

This dog caught Ricky’s attention as it galloped happily across a Glasgow street right into the arms, surprisingly for Ricky, of its homeless owner. Ricky pondered the better life that that dog could have had but seemed to conclude that all the comforts an owner in Bearsden could have given the dog would not have made it any happier than it was. Sharing this when he got back home Ricky’s wife Lorraine said that that was the kind of love that only dogs and God had. The song explores this from the voice of the dog… or God… and if you have ears to hear the parable… Utterly grace coloured brilliant!

The song has just been released on Ricky’s brilliant new record Short Stories Volume 1. Back in November 2015 I was sure there was a theological depth charge at the heart of the song’s parable. Now we know:


But I'd know you anywhere

If I saw you morning night or noon

That's why I lift myself up enough just to run after you

I'd give you everything of me

Knowing you can't return it back in full

That's why I love you

The way only God and Dogs can do

That's why I love you

The way only God and Dogs can do 


I see another parable here in the third line. I see the father in the Prodigal Son story that Jesus told. I see him watching for his lost son, the one who wished him dead, who squandered his inheritance. I see him spot him, way in the distance, because he would know him anywhere. I see him running after that boy, to embrace him and welcome him home.

Why? Well that is the song’s chorus. The father is giving everything of himself. Knowing that it cannot be paid back. That is the grace of God. An unmerited favour. Loved as we are. Just because that is the love… that only God… and dogs give! Utterly grace coloured brilliant!

NEW SERMON SERIES "10:10 in TEN" - Starts in FITZROY Tomorrow 24.9.17

Fitzroy 1010 Mission

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we start a brand new series called 10:10 in Ten. It is has my name written all over it!

I am not sure when I started the thought processes. I cannot remember what sparked it. It might have been something I heard at some Christian event about faith that left me dissatisfied with a definition. It might have been something in social media where I am often angered at cheap clichéd explanations of Christian faith.

Whatever it was, I began to think of how to encapsulate our following of Jesus in a verse, or a passage of Scripture. Before long I had three key passages, then six and finally I settled for ten.

Ten of course is my number. For those of you don’t know, I am a 10:10 man. It is my birthday; October 10th. It is also one of those key verses in the life of faith. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fulness.” 

That idea of life in all its fulness is my life motto. I want to take Jesus up on that invitation. I want to live that life. I also realised that it was a motto for a Church, so Fitzroy took it on. I love seeing the youth walking round with my birthday on their sweat shirts but that every member of our congregation lives that 10:10 life is the aim of our Fitzroy leadership. Beyond that Belfast in all its fulness is a prayer on our hearts!

So, could I give us 10:10 in ten Biblical passages. That is what I am hoping to do over the next few months. Between now and Christmas we will look at ten key passages across the Bible that indicate who we are in Jesus and what we are supposed to be to the world as a result. We we look at God’s invitation to the 10:10 life and then what God does wishing and without us to the earth and everything in, the fulness of God’s blessing and life.

We begin tomorrow with that invitation in John 10:10. If you haven’t got a spiritual home why not join us. Tomorrow morning is actually a different kind of service in Fitzroy. We hope that the liturgical part of hymns, prayers, reading and sermon will be over in 45 minutes. This is in order to give us time, as part of our worship, to visit half of our Fitzroy programmes and organisations. You can mingle and chat around tables, gain information and who knows find something we do that might help you live 10:10!

Everybody Welcome!

Our evening event (7am) is a special one… click here for information on our RICH MULLINS TRIBUTE night



“In time this won't even matter

This chapter will be long on the grass

And we'll talk about everything til it's easier

Your beauty is nothing compared to what

You will become

You will become

You will become in time become”

-      From You Will Become by Glen Hansard

One Sunday a few years ago, my then assistant Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley placed this song perfectly between the Scripture passages of John 10 and Ephesians 3. Performed brilliantly by Dave Thompson and Peter Greer it opened a door in the soul between Jesus words, “I have come to bring you life and life in all its fullness,” and Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. 

Hansard had probably no intention of finding his song being used perfectly in Christian worship services but it really has, what I would call, deep prophetic stimulations of pastoral care and hopefulness.

I used the song before on the Sunday that I was using the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast to share the truth of God’s loving grace. It is the greatest news of all time that God loves us at the very worst of our ugliness as exactly how we are. It is a wonderfully revolutionary message when we hear it under the pressures of the culture we live in. The movie goes on to tell us that being loved as we are is not the end. The Beast starts to become beautiful when he knows he is loved as he is. And so with God. He loves us as we are and loves us so much that he will love us into the full potential of who we could become.

As you can see Hansard’s song was a perfect, summing up of the sermon in that beautiful, poignant – “Your beauty is nothing compared to what you will become.” Hearing it sung in the context of worship is even more spiritual still!

I am speaking on John 10 tomorrow morning (24.9.17) and might now have to squeeze this quote in.


Ricky Ross Short Stories 1

I was a Deacon Blue fan before anyone else I knew. Until Dignity was re-mixed and re-released no one was paying attention. I was near obsessed. I heard they were on a Television show one Sunday on Channel 4. I recorded it. It is probably still in the attic!

On this show Ricky and Lorraine were being interviewed sitting at a piano. At one stage Ricky explained how he wrote the songs and they did a stripped back version of Ragman. It was beautiful. I was entranced. When they released a similar version of Raintown as a B-side of the aforementioned re-mixed Dignity I lapped it up. Over the next few years we got piano versions of Wages Day and Circus Lights. I craved more.

Thirty years later and I have my album. Twelve songs with Ricky Ross at his piano, with minimal embellishments from a few cellos and other strings. It is all done in the template of a Ricky Ross solo concert. There are a few Deacon Blue hits scattered throughout and even The Germans Are Out Today from Ross’s very first album release, So Long Ago. Carole King’s Goin' Back gets taken out of its 1990’s Deacon Blue incarnation as well.

Around the better known songs Ross adds in the new ones. At My Weakest Point and Only God and Dogs particularly resonate with me but there might be more blogs about those. Without the band arrangements there is an extra emotional and spiritual intensity. Ricky’s uncluttered voice brings a beautiful mettle of melancholy to songs about loss, injustice and human brokenness with his usual sprinkled grace notes of hope and love.