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March 2018


Stockies in mandela's cell

(this morning's Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2... their theme was "Coming back to life!" They are always tricky!) 

I always found it the strangest feeling. When I was a University Chaplain I used to take teams to Cape Town. For years I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island and District 6. Now you see… right there… when I say privilege in the same sentence as Robben island and District 6, I get that strange feeling.

We don’t visit Robben Island or the District 6 museum because of the joyful life they brought. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 14 years in the tiniest cell, which one year we actually got inside instead of looking through the bars. We visit the Lime Quarry where they made the prisoners  break up the limestone with the tiniest of hammers in the most tedious torturous work. Robben Island is the reminder of an injustice and harsh regime.

District 6 too. In the early 60 this was the creative, quarter of Cape Town where races and colours and artists mingled in vibrant community. Then apartheid decided to divide up the colours. The authorities came down hard and literally bull dozed the life out of District 6. There is a still a green gash in the city where if you drive up the over grown roads you see the steps of houses flattened where people once lived. District 6 is another symbol of inhumanity. As someone has written in a piece of fabric art in the museum 

"Happy days

District Six

Living was cheap

Life precious


Living’s expensive and

Life is cheap…"

So, do you see why I have this strange feeling using the word privilege when walking round Robben Island and District 6. Why is it a privilege? Why does it feel special? Why do I feel almost blessed?It took me a few years of these visits to realise that the uneasy joy I felt on every visit was ok. I wasn’t feeling blessed about what happened back then. I was actually elated at the redemption that I was experiencing in these places right now. 

The prisoners are not only free but they are the guides who walk and talk you round Robben Island. They have come back to life. Some people are actually moving back into District 6. The injustice has been put right. District 6 is coming back to life.

On Easter week particularly, I remember Robben Island and District Six as Resurrection spaces…

MARY MAGDALENE - THE FILM - More a Reflection Than a Review

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene - the movie. Reviews are always going to be subjective. How was Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus? What about a script based on Mary? Was it Scripturally based? What about the fictions parts? 

For me, as someone who has lived in the Gospel accounts for almost 40 years of my life it was never going to be about a movie review. I do not find myself watching Bible films as entertainment open to review. Rather it is about spiritual meditation and reflection. Oh yes, I was asking about whether Phoenix’s Jesus felt authentic to me and I was interrogating every part of the fiction. Yet, more intensely I was asking what I could learn about the Gospel accounts and how they apply to my life?

A few things has me surmising. Most obviously Mary Magdalene’s role in Jesus’ life and the aftermath. I remember a friend who was doing an Art Thesis around Mary Magdalene asking me where the Bible said that she was a prostitute? You we wrestled with that one. It seemed so obvious. Yet, nowhere in the Scripture is that suggested. This movie ended with the fact that Pope Gregory was the one who made Mary Magdalene a prostitute and how the Vatican made it right as recently as 2016. Protestants, on the whole, seem to have followed Pope Gregory! 

A film about the Gospels centred on Mary will obviously need some filling out and there was a lot of that. However, being the Bibliophile, I started at the end. Matthew and Mark both make it clear in their accounts that Mary Magdalene was there at the crucifixion and the tomb. The men are scattered. 

Mary witnesses not only Jesus’ death but also the resurrection. This is major truth, a central part of the story. Often times, though we always have a woman declare the resurrection in Fitzroy to hold to this Biblical truth, we often see this as circumstantial. The movie sees it as being about Mary’s insight into Jesus plans and teaching. It opens up interpretation!

Jesus radical approach to women is obviously a thrust of the plot here but never in a garish way. That women are following him is enough. That Mary is the witness of Jesus' death and resurrection is ultimate punch... and a Biblical one!

What I find particularly helpful about such movies, even ones that stray a lot further from Scripture than this one, is to get a feel for the times Jesus lived and taught in. The context for Biblical text is vital. This Mary Magdalene movie reiterated for me the violence of the times. There are scattered crosses and a fictional part where Peter and Mary go through Samaria and come across a village where the people have been attacked and left to die, reminded me of the violent context for words about forgiveness and mercy and peace and love. Jesus call to such things in his day was not an easy or popular message. We in Northern Ireland, in our pots conflict context need to be aware of the radical an costly call to forgiveness in Jesus’ setting and therefore ours.

Most of all the movie brought the prophets right into Jesus message. Isaiah and Amos seem particularly important to the writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett. Jesus contextualises his teaching in the demand for justice in these prophecies. Most vital throughout is the difference between the ritual of religion and this Kingdom coming spirituality which is authentic and active. The overturning of the table sin the Temple really benefits from this juxtaposition of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Jesus.

So, on Easter week, much to surmise indeed. I imagine the film will struggle with the critics. Anything Christian tends to begin with either pre-viewed prejudice or ignorance of what Christian faith is about. Added to this I think there are moments when the movie moves a little too slowly and lacks some energy. Phoenix’s Jesus is a little other worldly and lacks a little charisma. Rooney Mara is much more convincing as Mary Magdalene. The resurrection scenes don’t burst with miracles and hope like they could and should.

So, Mary Magdalene might not get an opportunity to draw a wider audience than those of with a vested interest. No matter, watched with an open mind and sieved through the actual Scriptural accounts, it can open up many insights, a helpful resource in these last days of Lent!



Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be having a family extravaganza. 

Our worship will be led by the Sounds Good Orchestra, a collective of top rated musicians playing alongside those who are learning the first notes. It is always amazing.

Around that we are excited to have Tomsa, a wonderfully gifted mime artist with us from Czech Republic, performing two mimes and our Youth Director, the equally gifted Paul Bowman, will be speaking about improving our serve. It will be vibrant!

In the evening (7pm) we will be ending our Lenten series on Mark and we are delighted that Philip Mateer one of our elders will do a dramatic recital of much of that Gospel as part of the evening. Gripping!



MARCH 28 @ 7pm

The Gospel According To… Marilynne Robinson

with Andrew Cunning

Marilynne 2 

more details about Andrew Cunning on Marilynne Robinson HERE


MARCH 29 @ 7pm 

In Between the Man And The Message

a film about Eugene and Janice Peterson 

with Director Greg Fromholz


more details on Peterson; In-Between The Man and The Message HERE 


MARCH 30 @ 7pm

20 Years Since The Good Friday Agreement

with Rev Dr. Norman Hamilton

Norman Hamilton

more details on 20 Years Since The Good Friday Agreement HERE


APRIL 1 @ 11pm 

Jesus - The Man Of The Passion

in music, poetry and prose

(light breakfast served from 9.30pm)


more details about Jesus - The Man Of The Passion HERE


APRIL 8 @ 7pm 


Reflections and Performances of Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years

featuring The Radiator Blues Band and others


more details about In The Time Of My Compassion HERE

IN THE TIME OF MY CONFESSION - Bob Dylan’s “Gospel Years” Performed and Surmised

Trouble No More


Bob Dylan’s “Gospel Years”

Performed and Surmised

featuring the The Radiator Blues Band, Trimmed and Burning and Dave Thompson

and Steve Stockman Surmising 


APRIL 8, 2018 @ 7.oopm 

Late last year Bob Dylan released an 8 CD box set of songs from the phase of his career often termed The Gospel Years.

In 1979 Dylan had a very dramatic Christian conversion and went to 6 months Bible Study with the Vineyard Church in California. It caused a stir across rock music and made for three very interesting albums between 1979 and 1981. 

Those three years might not have been his most popular period or most commercially successful though Grammy Awards were won for Slow Train Coming. However, it might have been a period of Dylan’s most fertile songwriting and most passionate performances. 

The box set Trouble No More brings this all out. Different versions of songs, unreleased songs and intense live versions, have had Dylanophiles reassessing that period of his work.

In this evening of performances and surmising you will hear many of the strongest songs of that era, some in versions even Dylan hasn’t performed and a few clues as to what might have been going on with Dylan, the world and Christianity around that time.

It will be an evening of entertainment, insight and spiritual nourishment.

read my review of Bob Dylan; Trouble No More HERE 

JESUS: THE MAN OF THE PASSION - His Life in Songs, Poems and Scripture

Man Of Passion


His Life in Songs, Poems and Scripture

with The Fitzroy Players


APRIL 1st, 2018 @ 11am


In a little over 60 minutes, The Fitzroy Players will perform a mix of songs and poems, wrapped around the Scriptural story, revealing who Jesus is.

From his birth to his teaching and questions of his true identity to his death and resurrection we singers and poets will use their own original material and the art of others to bring out the character and mission of Jesus, the man who died in the Easter Passion and whose resurrection we celebrate this Easter Sunday.

We have an array of talent in Fitzroy and so expect the voices of Dave Thompson, Jonny Fitch, Shannon Clements, Chris Fry and Paul Bowman to bring the emotion and spirituality alive and to be bring us to the discipleship implications of the life of Jesus; The Man of the Passion.


Peace Agreement 20th


20 Years From Then... What Now?"



MARCH 30, 2018 @ 7.30pm (refreshments from 7)


Easters are not like Christmases and we don't have one date for Good Friday. Therefore, this year’s Good Friday will be 12 days short of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Just go with us!On this year’s Good Friday we in Fitzroy will be looking at “20 Years From Then… What Now?” It is obvious for us. Fitzroy has been involved in peace making for at least 35 years.

Fitzroy is the only Protestant Church to win the prestigious Pax Christi Peace Prize, with our partners in reconciliation at Clonard Monastery. Our former minister Ken Newell’s memoir Captured By A Vision is as good a book about Christian peacemaking as might have been written and indeed lived! 

Peacemaking and Good Friday are in our DNA. We don’t miss the symbolism of Jesus reconciling the world to God on the original Good Friday having a huge impact on the agreement between our long divided communities in Northern Ireland. 

It is our delight that we have Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and himself personally involved in the work of reconciliation in the high profile Holy Cross dispute in 2001. He is currently the Presbyterian Church’s Convenor of the  Council of Public Affairs.

Where are we 20 years after the Agreement? How is the Church doing 20 years after? Norman will will bring historical perspective and a pulse on the current crisis, as well as theological insights and the discipleship implications of gathering around a table to remember the original Good Friday (and there will be a creative communion) and what we are called to once we rise to leave that table.



A Hard Days Night

It was the summer of 1976 as I remember it. I was still only fourteen. For four years I had been a teeny bopper consuming copious amounts of 45s. It was another 7” single that led to the next chapter on my musical development and probably emotional development too. Eventually, a few years up ahead it led me to spiritual revelation. I was in the middle of adolescence after all. 

For some reason, maybe because Paul McCartney’s band Wings were the biggest on the planet at that time and playing concerts all over the world, in 1976 Parlophone decided to release all of the Beatles singles in been picture sleeves. As well as the 21 original UK releases, Parlophone released Yesterday for the very first time. It made the Top 10 and was the very first Beatles’ product that I owned. 

It was the b-side that completely captivated me. I am convinced that I heard it a few years earlier at my very first school Christmas Party when the cool and trendy Upper Sixth used newly released The Beatles 1962-66 to proliferate the dance tunes. I Should Have Known Better was never a single, never a hit, yet for me the very first time I set it on my record player I heard that sound. The driving beat, the catchy melodies, the harmonies, that harmonica. This was a step up from The Glitter Band, Slik and Smokie!

As fate would have it my best buddy at the time, Colin Millar, had just inherited a few Beatles’ albums from an uncle. Now, Colin was a year younger than me and perhaps still in the middle of his teenybopper phase. Whatever, he agreed to swap me four, close to original released date, Beatles’ LPs for a stack of singles, none of which I can even remember. I have felt a little bit bad about it ever since but Colin you are not getting them back!

As luck (“providence” for the theologically squeamish) would have it, the four records were Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Beatles For Sale and Help. They were the pop tunes that drew me in before I had to  grow up enough to digest Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band.

At the very same time in a wee shop on Broughshane Street in Ballymena, just across from Camerons, I found the first Beatles Monthly. The 1976 Beatles’ revival sparked the republishing of all the original Beatles Monthly magazine with a few pages around it about what the four ex Beatles were doing now.

All of this and it was not very long until the posters on my wall changed. Santa brought me Wings Over America, a live triple album, and two George Harrison records, 33 & 1/3 and The Best Of George Harrison.

Without question this was the next phase in my life. The Beatles took music from something that I loved to a resource in the development of my mindset. Though I fell in love initially with their pop records, by Christmas I was listening to George Harrison singing about God and social concerns in Bangladesh

Ballymena was a country town and The Beatles had me looking over my father’s neatly groomed hedge and begin to wonder about the world’s big questions way out there. That afternoon when Colin Millar off loaded some outdated pop records, was the afternoon when I took a turning on the road that led to God, international development and peacemaking. I have no doubt about it!

PETERSON - In-Between The Man And The Message - Film showing and Conversation with Director GREG FROMHOLZ

Peterson Poster 2.0




with conversation with the Director - GREG FROMHOLZ


MARCH 29, 2018 @ 7.30pm (refreshments from 7)


Eugene Peterson has been a major influence in Christianity over the past forty years. His writing has given us books like A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology and The Pastor: A Memoir to name three that reveal his  Biblical, spiritual and pastoral range. His paraphrase of the Scripture called The Message is no doubt is most famous work, opening up the Bible into modern language with careful scholarship and inspired literary flair. Bono among other is a huge fan of The Message and indeed his entire work.

Eugene is a shy and humble man and he and his wife Janice have spent most of their retirement years in Lakeland, Montana where he has continued to write.

A few years ago Greg Fromholz, and American who ha sliced in Ireland for some thirty years directed a short film about Eugene and Jan. It is a beautiful pastoral film, where the backdrop of Peterson’s beloved Montana becomes almost a retreat centre where Greg has the privilege of gently drawing out of both Petersons over 80 years of pastoral experience and spiritual surmising. It is an intimate insight onto a faithful couple of the faith.

The film lasts for around 18 minutes and after we show it we will be asking Greg himself what the making of such a film was like and what impact it made on his own life and ministry.


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) we will be with the question the Greeks ask in John 12 - "we wish to see Jesus". My good buddy Doug Gay's new book on preaching, God Be in My Mouth: 40 Ways to Grow as a Preacher, has me encouraged to bring the lectionary year, the year we live in and my own personal year all together in one big exegetical St. Patrick's weekend stew. So, where John 12 sits in John's editorial will be considered around Grand Slam Rugby, a 30th Anniversary of the troubles darkest fortnight and St. Patrick might make his way in their too!

In the evening (7pm) we will be continuing in our congregational Lenten studies in Mark.