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April 2018


Eugene Reavey

It was a very ordinary cup of coffee with, on the surface, a very ordinary man. We were in Fitzroy Welcome Area waiting to do interviews for a documentary about peace building. He was reading his paper and I sat down beside him and asked him to tell me his story. It was an ordinary kind of question but my asking it threw open the violent, bloody and scandalous sectarianism of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Eugene Reavey's story should not get any worse than the first incident but tragically it does. On the 4th January 1976 Eugene came home to find three of his brothers shot at their home in Whitecross, County Armagh. Four members of the O’Dowd family were killed the same night in what seems to have been coordinated killings by the notorious loyalist Glenanne Gang. Two of Eugene’s brothers, John and Brian, in the early 20s, were dead and a third brother Anthony, who was just 17, died a month later in hospital.

That would seem to be enough trauma for one family to bare but there is more. The very next night eleven Protestants were shot in retaliation for the Reavey/O’Dowd killings at Kingsmills. Ten died. The Reavey family came upon the scene while visiting Anthony in hospital. Eugene Reavey was in the morgue getting the bodies of his brothers when the victims of Kingsmills and their families were arriving. He wept with them.

Yet, 23 years later, using Parliamentary privileges in the House of Commons, Rev Dr Ian Paisley accused Eugene Reavey of planning the Kingsmills massacre. The Reavey brothers were harassed from almost the day after Kingsmills but this was an outrageous public accusation, calling him “a wild man” of the IRA. 

Sitting with Eugene in Fitzroy I could feel the anger rising in the depths of my being. I remembered that day when Paisley made the accusation. I never thought that I would ever be sitting having coffee with the man he was naming. How many of us realised that he was finger pointing at an innocent man? In all the verbal assaults that our different sides have thrown at each other over the last 50 years have there been any words more abhorrent than these.

The surviving Protestant from Kingsmills drove to the Reaveys' door to assure them that he knew they were innocent. The former chief constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan said he had "absolutely no evidence whatsoever" to connect him with the massacre, and that no police file contained any such allegation. Yet, Paisley never apologised. 

Not many of us have had such a multi faceted experience of The Troubles than Eugene. Yet, there is not one iota of bitterness in him. Indeed when he later, in the documentary, shares the story of his brothers’ murders he breaks down when he remembers his mother. 

She was a spiritual woman to whom the neighbours came for prayer. One morning as she was praying Eugene asked who the candles she had lit in the house were for. She listed off neighbours with ailments and concerns and then said, “and that one is for the people who killed my sons.” She lit that candle every day for thirty seven years before she died.

Eugene also explained how on the night that the family returned from their aunts house to discover the bloody murder scene in their home that his father set the remaining brothers down and made them swear that they would not retaliate or join any republican paramilitary groups. 

That two such upstanding, forgiving parents should suffer one of their surviving sons being accused of one of the worst atrocities of our Troubles… I cannot find words.

These days Eugene Reavey is campaigning for peace and healing sharing the Truth and Reconciliation Platform with the likes of Stephen Travers (shot in Miami Massacre), Alan McBride (lost his wife in Shankill Bomb) and Michael Gallagher (lost his son in Omagh bomb) to attempt to help bring healing and peace and rid us of violence.

Sitting with Eugene in our Welcome Area I was aware of his pain at both his brothers’ murders and being falsely accused of Kingsmills. I was inspired by his resilience and desire to contribute to a better future than the last that he had experienced the very worst parts of. 


The Alarm

photo: Colin Hopkins

The last time Mike Peters was in Belfast, it was him and his guitar and kick drum contraption that he used to the full. There were stories between songs. This gig was different. This was the current Alarm, James Stevenson ex Gen X and The Cult on bass and guitars, Smiley who played this very stage with Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, and Jules Jones Peters on keys. Stevenson and Smiley crack out a thumping thud of a rhythm, Smiley’s Strummer days giving it all a Clash sounding rawness.

They go at it for two hours without even the slightest breather. Conversation is rare tonight and when it comes the band are using transitioning from one anthem to the next. Anthems they are. From the oldest hits to the newest songs, Mike Peters creates a communal happening that is almost congregational. The Alarm family as he likes to call his fans know every part they need to sing. 

But over all it is the lack of breather that is hard to comprehend. Peters has three mics, one left side of stage, one right and one centre and he moves from one to the other throughout. He shimmies and shakes, throws guitar poses and conducts the congregational sing. His body has been tough years of cancer treatment and yet here he is giving everything and a little more, his voice never flinching. Inspirational before we even get to to the songs.

For over thirty years Mike Peters has written songs about peace and love and hope. They are all about a better world that is fair and just and true. The energy that Peters pumps out is a positivity of spirit that is infectious and effective! If ever a band expressed in rock music the essence of Judeo Christianity’s idea of Shalom, it is The Alarm. 

Peters cleverly mixes the old favourite sit the new. The new are no less crafted or powerful, Marching On, Blaze of Glory, The Stand and Strength stood alongside Peace Now, Dead Reindeer and Neutral. A new album coming soon should be as eagerly anticipated by Alarm fans as anything before it.

As I listened and marvelled at the vitality and communal connection I couldn't help think I was watching a mix of 70’s punk, 80’s big music and actually also the folk tradition of Woody Guthrie’s 40s and Bob Dylan’s early 60s. It’s an intoxicating are of goodness for the soul to imbibe!


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be looking at ABIDING. Are children influenced by the specific words and moments of their parents or just by imbibing everything over years and years? How does being around Jesus shape you?  Jesus words to his disciples about them being branches off his Vine give us some clues as to who he is and how we can be fruitful. 

In the evening (7pm) we will be talking to some of those who seek to bear fruit for God in the lower Ormeau area of Belfast. Fitzroy has strong links with the Mornington project. Come and hear about work in Foodbank, after schools clubs and more... 


Madeira Prov

I have been a fan of Phil Madeira’s for over twenty years. And I don’t mean his songrwriting with the likes of the The Civil Wars that he won a Grammy with, or the two Mercyland records of hymns for everybody, or his production of tribute records to Paul McCartney and Mark Heard or his membership of Emmylou Harris’s The Red Dirt Boys. No, I mean Madeira’s very own work. Off Kilter was a beautifully crafted mood piece that had traces of Daniel Lanois.

There was a sixteen year gap in madeira solo records between 1999 and 2015 but the glut of his songs got finally released over three records PM, Motorcycle and Original Sinner. Indeed a song called Church that Phil recorded for a session on my radio show back in 1999 finally gets a release on Motorcycle.

Though all three of those recent albums are worth checking out Providence has had particular attention, even making Rolling Stone. It is rather a departure for Madeira. Everything until now has been very guitar orientated while Providence is piano driven. And I mean driven. These songs rattle along like a man on the Highway from Rhode Island to Nashville and back. Which is a perfect music backdrop to songs that go back to Madeira’s childhood and formative years before he headed to Nashville to follow his dream.

Lyrically this a beautifully autobiographical record. Barrington is about the area of Providence that Phil spent much of his childhood in, as does Rich Man’s Town. Crescent Park was a forbidden amusement park nearby. We even go further back to Gothenburg where his ancestors came from - immigrants and a political hit in the subtlety. The fact that Madeira is almost falling back in love with his home spaces rather than needing catharsis from some scars he escaped from make sit a joyous ride.

Phil Madeira as a jazz piano man. Who’d have thought? Is there anything this man cannot do musically. It’s Randy Newman meeting Mose Allison. It tasteful and in some ways that word tasteful  maybe best describes everything Madeira touches. 

A POEM ABOUT POEMS (for Poetry Day Ireland)

Potery Day

I discovered this morning that it was Poetry Day Ireland. Between meetings, injections for Uganda and my daughters' GB Display tonight I noted down a few lines about the importance of poems. The first and last lines are stolen from Seamus Heaney - appropriately!


Poems, they set the darkness echoing

Search your soul when they sneak inside

Poems are the Psalms of our lamentation

And the space where we create to confide.


Poems caress our hearts with love songs

Gave us the words to say “I love you”

Poems soothe the hurt of our heartaches

Give us the push to pull on through.


Poems protest with sharp fresh perspective

And crash against all our shallow facade

Poems remind us that we are not alone

And save our thoughts from going mad.


Poems put warm flesh on our stereotypes

Make friends from what we dehumanise

Poems rub grace on stiff sore muscles of law

And knock over the idol of dogma’s lies.


Poems are 12 bar blues for our trauma

Healing open wounds of that bloody time

Poems shine light on what if we imagine

Take us to where hope and history rhyme.


Martin Sheen Serve

T-Bone Burnett is a songwriter, better known as a producer, and as the latter has given us some of the finest film sound tracks of that last twenty years - O Brother, Where Art Though, Cold Mountain, Crazy Heart etc etc. He has a line from his song Trap Door that I have been quoting for 36 years:


“It's a funny thing about life

You've got to give up your life to be alive”


Martin Sheen is an actor who played my favourite ever part on television, President Jed Bartlett on West Wing. He is also a Jesus follower who in interviews shares real spiritual wisdom. I love particularly a phrase he has used often but I am quoting from an interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast:


“And we had a phrase when I was young, in our community, that one serves oneself best by serving others first.”


Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth that billions of us believe is somehow God in flesh and blood humanity. One of Jesus poetic phrases I have built my life upon, John 10:10:


“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”


Or as a friend sent me today the Hawaiin Pidgin translation:


"Da steala guy, he ony come fo steal, kill, an bus up da place. But I wen come so da peopo can come alive inside, an alive to da max."


That invitation to life in all its fulness drives my life and ministry, gives constant impetus to my aspirations. 

The next thing Jesus says after the offer of full life is:


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.


We are back to Burnett and Sheen… giving up your life… serving others.

Jesus would later give us another beautiful refrain:


“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”


Theologians would call Jesus paradigm man - a model for humanity. We are not only beneficiaries of his laying down his one for us. We are to follow the example. In that following I believe we find 10:10, the life in its fulness… “you’ve got to give-up your life to be alive”.

Martin Sheen did not say that he was taught that serving was a good thing… or a nice thing… or even a Christian thing. He said “that one serves oneself best by serving others first.” To be find 10:10, serve!

Let me finish with a wee paraphrasic twist. Giving up your life for a friend can seem to huge. It is not likely we will have to. So we can dismiss it too easily. If we changed it for effect - “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down half an hour of your life for one’s friends.” 

Half an hour. To serve. To give. To be in that place where as human beings we might just discover why we were made and find that right there we are living 10:10… life in all it fulness!



guest support - Jonny Fitch


77 University Street, BELFAST BT7 1 HL (use Rugby Road entrance)

MAY 19 @ 7.30pm 

£10 on door


Beki H


I have been a fan of Beki Hemingway since I heard her song Sinsick on a compilation album back in the last months of the 20th Century. Soon discovering her albums her songs were regularly on my Rhythm and Soul playlist back in those Radio Ulster Sunday night days. 

Then Chicago based Beki finally made her way across to Belfast. I remember the "wow" that I uttered when I first heard the power of that voice. Indeed, I was struck by it afresh when she sang at the closing event of this year's 4 Corners Festival, her song Forgiveness Waltz, written by Jonathan Rundman for their collaborative album Tennesota,  might become the Festival's anthem.

After a period of time living in Colorado, Beki and her guitar playing husband Randy Kerkeman have relocated to Gorey in Wexford. Her latest record (my review HERE!) Whins and Weather is a joyous collections of Americana, great writing, honest and deep with that voice shining. Duke Special even makes an appearance.

It is a thrill to have Beki back in Belfast. She will be supported by the up and coming young Fitzroy man Jonny Fitch whose songs are dressed up in all kinds of pedals, loops and artistic imagination.

MERCY GIVERS - A Short Reflection of Song, Scripture and Surmise

Stockman Catalyst 1

When Jesus offers “life in all its fulness” in John 10:10, he follows it in 10:11 with “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep”. 

Here is the caress and collide of the Gospel. The caress of The Good Shepherds love is soon followed by the call to be shepherd ourselves.



12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 



When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.


Jesus chat with Peter … 



v 16 Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 

19 Then he said to him, “Follow me!”


The Gospel caresses us as we receive God’s mercy… we then are called to share that mercy with the harassed and helpless sheep around us.




May every curse be broken, and every hope revealed 

May every blessing be unbroken, and every broken heart be healed 


And let there be mercy, mercy, mercy 

Let there be mercy, mercy, mercy 


Let the water flow, let the light shine 

Let the blood go through me like a river winds 

Through the valley, through the meadow 

Through my spirit and my soul just like a river goes 

Through the mountain, under the moonlight 

Let the blood go through me till I truly see the light 


Let there be mercy for my brother and sister, my mother, my family 

Let there be mercy for my friends and lovers, my foes and enemies 

Let there be mercy for my words and wars, deeds and deeds I didn't do 

Let there be mercy for every soul in this city may the Lord have pity over you 


Ben sings of mercy for the family… friends… enemies… wars… and every soul in the city…

Let us not look ahead for months of years… Let us consider the week ahead… “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down HALF AN HOUR for one’s friends.”

The Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep… what can we do for Him…




You have given everything to me.

What can I do for You?

You have given me eyes to see.

What can I do for You?


Pulled me out of bondage and You made me renewed inside,

Filled up a hunger that had always been denied,

Opened up a door no man can shut and You opened it up so wide

And You've chosen me to be among the few.

What can I do for You?


You have laid down Your life for me.

What can I do for You?

You have explained every mystery.

What can I do for You?



Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”


Fitzroy 10-10

Those who know me, know my obsession with John 10:10. It seems to me to be one of the best poetic ways to describe the ambitious dream of God's plan to restore the brokenness of the world redemption, shalom, freedom, justice/righteousness and salvation. And me... I want it... I yearn for it... in my life and in the lives of those I minister to. Seeing across my life and world that life and life in all its fulness is what gets me up in the morning.

So, I wrote a prayer... a 10:10 Prayer...


Lord we come before you

Aware of our brokenness.

Lord your word explains our brokeness

But then after we are broken 

Becomes your great story of salvation

The story of how you love us enough

To offer human fulfilment of life in all its fulness

There is the redemption after Eden

There is the freedom after Egypt

There is the homecoming after exile

There is the salvation after Calvary

There is the Kingdom after Resurrection.


Lord forgive us for our complicity in the brokenness

Thank you that you are faithful to forgive us

And purify us from all unrighteousness 

We come to you broken ourselves

And thank you that Jesus offers Life in all its fulness

The Good shepherd who laid down his life for us

Lord by your spirit minister to us

Reveal to us what that life is

And teach us how we can live it


Lord we live in a broken city 

And you offer our city life in all its fulness

Lord help us to envision through your eyes

A city in all it fulness

Peaceful and prosperous as Jeremiah asked us to pray for

May we pray for it more often

But also get up off our knees

To mend the brokenness

And bring life in all its fulness tho our streets


Lord we live in a broken world

This morning we remember the broken children 

That this congregation reach

Through Saphara in India

Zanini Bantwana in South Africa

And Fields of Life in Uganda

Lord move us to play our part

In these children finding life in all its fulness.


Lord restore us by your spirit

And lead us by your spirit

To see the crowds without a shepherd

Have compassion on them

And be shepherds to them

Guiding them to life in all its fulness

And in doing so

Experiencing what you meant by

Life in all its fulness.


Fitzroy Church Weird Light

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be just one verse away from my very very favourite. Yes, our reading starts at John 10 verse 11 and anyone who knows me knows that my life and ministry revolves the verse before - 10:10! The promise of Jesus "life in all its fulness" from verse 10 is given all its foundations in the verses around it. We will explore what Jesus has done and continues to do to give us that life in all its fulness. It has to do with sheep and shepherds! Expect a guitar riffed worship too!

Tomorrow evening (7pm) I will be presenting one of my quiet reflective evenings. These give an opportunity to find time to be still. Through songs and poetically written reflections we spend time in the Scriptures to nourish and inspire the soul.