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June 2018


Janice teaching knitting

It is the last day of June. The Stockies are thrilled that we will be spending the entire month of July in Uganda! Even better Janice, Jasmine and I have been here, in Uganda, for the 12 days already.

So, what have we been up to on the Sabbatical of a lifetime. Well, this week we were up in Arua, 310 miles north of Kampala. This is where our Church Fitzroy in Belfast, partner with a school, Onialkeu Primary and Nursery School. We are now back in Kampala to rest and get ready for a team coming in from Fitzroy this week. We will head back up to Arua for another 10 days.

It was great this week to be in Arua before the team arrives. It was less mad than when 24 muzungus (white people) will set off a frenzy-like Festival. This week, I was able to walk round the school, as normal as it is possible for a muzungu to do. Every lunch time I dandered over to sit with the teachers, just to chat and have a laugh. The children treated us a little more shyly than they will next week, though choruses of “Ya Ya, Ya Ya, Ya Ya Toure” that they sing to me filled the air… or… shouts of “10:10”, after my favourite verse from John.

Janice was the centre of the community this week. She was running what could only be described as a Knitting Camp. Every day from 9am until 5pm, and indeed afterwards, there were 30 widows in the Church building, beside the school, feverishly learning to knit. With her very very limited Lugbara and their very limited English, the most amazing week of learning went on. The warmth and laughter was palpable. 

When Janice has been teaching knitting at the school over the last three years Mama Agnes, the late Bishop Isaac’s wife, has asked her to do something with the widows. Being there for an extra week was the opportunity for it to happen. I am not sure Janice thought it would last for eight hours a day but she was in her space. Her deepest gladness was meeting this deep need in Arua. She even preached the word on Friday afternoon. Skilfully, and with resourceful Bible knowledge, she led us through some of the female difference makers in Scripture.

Me, well as you know I am here to help write Trevor Stevenson, founder of Fields Of Life’s, memoir. So, I had the privilege of sitting with Pastor’s Joel and David in their office, typing away. I found it particularly helpful to be shaping Trevor’s chapter about starting Dara High School and Truth Primary School, in Lira, during the time of Joseph Kony. To be in the north, thinking about the north… My office in Fitzroy is called the Onialeku Room and so I got to sit in what Pastor David calls The Fitzroy Room for a week. Wow!

Stocki Writing in Fitzroy Room

I also, of course, had a few opportunities to preach. Every morning with the widows. Widows can be thrown out of the house and family when their husband dies. They are very marginalised and can suffer severe poverty as a result. It was wonderful to share the Good News of how precious they are, created, loved and redeemed by God. 

There was also School Chapel. The School has a service every Thursday at 12. They sing, like only they can sing, and I got to preach to a cram packed Church. I also then shared in the Staff devotions on Friday afternoon. 

While we did all of this, our daughter Jasmine ran a ad hoc Nursery for the little children, hanging around their mothers and grandmothers. She also face painted half of the nursery children, though the queue was long and a little unruly! 

Jazz Face Painting

Again, the most wonderful part was being blending into the everyday, getting involved in the conversations, meeting people, settling into the hotel that the team will stay in next week, buying a few supplies. So, as you can tell, it was a busy week but in every way, refreshing, encouraging and inspirational.

We will now rest for two days and make final plans in the Fields of Life office for the team arriving on Tuesday. At Christmas we raised enough money in the craft sale to buy ten sewing machines for the school. Six have arrived and are ready to go with us on Wednesday morning! Back up that road for more wonder and fun. We are excited… but tomorrow will really be a day of rest.


Harriet's Ball

This sabbatical has thrown up a question, that has become a daily meditation. Caught between the wealth of my life back in Belfast and the poverty of my neighbourhood here in Arua, I am asking - What is ENOUGH? This short poem might have been where this meditation began, though it was not fixed in my thoughts at the time.

Harriet threw a ball

A tennis ball

Yellow and small.

The children screamed

And turned

All their attention

On the sky

To a tiny little yellow dot

In expansive African blue

Their eager eyes fixed

Their enthusiastic hands raised

Their energetic feet on springs


Harriet threw a ball

Like a compact bundle of ultimate desire 

The children screamed


Harriet might as well have thrown

An Iphone X into the air

That tennis ball was just the same.


Janice Delambience

(this is a blog from 2018... it beautifully describes the journey from Kampala to Arua that we take annually... and also speaks of the culture shock of a spoiled western brat - that would be me!)

A few nights ago we arrived in Arua, in the very far north west of Uganda. Soul Surmise regulars will know that we love this town. This particular arrival, though, has been a wonderful lesson in my sabbatical. One where the preacher had to listen to himself. One that I am thankful to be learning but one that is taking time to learn.

It is a long road to Arua and actually I have grown to love that road. Leaving the capital, Kampala, behind on rolling green hills, you drive through Luwero, with its great road side market to buy pineapples, then through a region known by my favourite word in the world, Nakasangola. We stop there for some lunch and a toilet break, at Kabalaga Diner full of other muzungus (white people), before heading towards Karuma Falls. 

At Karuma Falls we cross the Nile for the first time, at a bridge that symbolically divides north Uganda from south. The Falls is a beautiful photograph BUT there are memories of when the bridge led you into the territory of terrorist Joseph Kony and his Lords Residence Army that scourged the north for many years.

After Karuma Falls we drive through the entertaining, if menacing baboons, and turn left. The next two hours sees us drive along the edge of Murchison Falls Safari Park, on the longest straightest road I have ever seen. On a good day you might spot a giraffe or an elephant. This trip we saw buck and some playful hippopotamuses. The latter were right at the other end of the park where we cross the Nile again on another bridge at Pakwatch.

This was another deadly bridge in the days of the LRA. Kony’s army never crossed into West Nile at Pakwatch. They remained on the south side but continually ambushed trucks moving north or south. This cut West Nile, and thus Arua, off from Kampala for many years. Then it is a right turn at Nebbi and on to Arua, where the terrain changes to little rock outcrops and bendy roads.  

This trip took merely seven and a half hours. That is the shortest time I have ever done it. I did doze a couple for times for maybe twenty minutes BUT actually the road is a constant stimulation of people, changing scenery and different styles of traditional huts the further north you get.

We were tired from the trip when we arrived at our hotel. We are pampered muzungus. We are used to luxury. A day before our road trip we were in one of the most decadent hotels in Uganda. It takes time to adjust. The space. The finish. The rough edges. The locks on ensuites or lack thereof, the cold water, the size of the TV to watch the World Cup, he choice of food and no wifi!

On the Sunday before we left for my sabbatical in Uganda, I preached on Philippians 4. I love Philippians. It has great Christology and wonderful in its challenge and inspiration for discipleship. Some of that is tied up in Paul’s enthusiastic telling of his own testimony in finding God’s grace as a reality in his own life. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is only four chapters long but it packs in the theological and the personal, often times in the very same verse! 

Anyway, in that last sermon I was sharing, from that last chapter of Philippians. Paul wrote, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation..." Paul tell us that he knew what it was to be in plenty and also to be content when he had nothing. It took twenty four hours but these verses returned to me in Arua. They didn’t return in words but in God’s helping me to adjust. This is a good hotel. How dare I be fussy? I will return to my plenty, where it is easy to be content. 

Twenty four hours after we arrived I am content. It had taken twenty four hours last year too. I hadn’t learned. This is more than most Ugandans could ever dream of. Most of them can never imagine plenty. So, on sabbatical, I am learning how to be content. Even my content is decadent! Our fellow guests leave their room doors open. They have nothing worth stealing. We hold our phones and lap tops preciously because we live in too much plenty. 

What a spoiled rich brat I am! There is food. There is a TV. There is an ensuite. There is water. The bed and mosquito net are perfect. I am settled in our hotel and very much content! I am thankful for this very good lesson. One I am still a long way from learning. 


Macca 75

If you haven't seen James Corden's Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney on his Late Late Show, you need to. You say that you are not a McCartney fan. I still hold that you need to see this. It is precious television. A brilliant spectacle and full of personal emotion for both McCartney and Corden.

The concept is fabulous. McCartney back in his old home in Liverpool, at the barbers in Penny Lane and pulling off a surprise pub gig too. The car karaoke scenes are hilarious, though they get emotional when they talk about Let It Be, McCartney remembering his mum and Corden his dad.

Corden makes a point about McCartney's music that is obvious and yet often overlooked. He describes the joy that McCartney eeks out of songs. Indeed, in todays times that sense of joy might be as important as the clever lyric that expresses our social critique and angst.

Corden reminded me of a blog I did on the, now 76 year old, ex Beatle for his birthday last year. Corden sees the sound of joy, I hear the words of hope! We all need a blend of those!

Paul McCartney is never seen as the most political or spiritual of The Beatles. He has certainly never written anything lyrical to challenge the political subversiveness of Imagine by Beatle John or the spiritual enthusiasm of My Sweet Lord by Beatle George.

However, a couple of years ago, as I lay on my early morning holiday bed listening to him on my iPod shuffle, I became aware of a theme that I had never recognised before in McCartney’s work; hope!

Now some might immediately jump to his song Hope Of Deliverance and say that it states the patently obvious. Maybe! However my songs that appeared spookily close together on that shuffle were Tug Of War from album of same title, Summer’s Day from McCartney II and Golden Earth Girl from Off the Ground.

All three songs speak of a deep hopefulness of what will happen beyond the difficult moments the singer is in; the entire culture in Tug Of War; the very personal in Summer’s Day; and the eco world in Golden Earth Girl.

Before this holiday eureka moment I had previously blogged about another McCartney song with an eschatological theme, The End Of The End from Memory Almost Full:

"On the day that I die I'd like bells to be rung
And songs that were sung to be hung out like blankets
That lovers have played on
And laid on while listening to songs that were sung
At the end of the end
It's the start of a journey
To a much better place
And a much better place
Would have to be special
No reason to cry
No need to be sad
At the end of the end"

Some of Macca’s most poetic lyrics indeed. McCartney does know about death losing parents, wife and two Beatles. What faith he is believing here is hard to understand though he does touch on Christian and eastern faith In his most spiritual work, the more classical, Ecce Cor Meum for which he mentions being shaped by a philosophy “the faith in a benevolent spirit.”

Finally, and most recently McCartney has added to his canon of hope 2014’s single Hope For The Future:

“Hope for the future

It's coming soon enough

How much can we achieve?

Hope for the future

It will belong to us

If we believe

If we believe”

Yet again, we might question what Macca is believing or putting his hope in. It would seem to me that McCartney confirmed in Hope For The Future my hunch that he is expressing a secular wishfulness of something better.

All of these songs might be McCartney-esque in their ambiguity of belief but I as a Christian can shake hands with the sentiments and actually, whether Macca knows it or not, the theology of them, vague and all as it might be!




African Sun 2

It has almost become a catch phrase. As I was leaving Belfast, so many people shouted at me to “kiss the African sun.” It is a poem I wrote a couple of summers ago for my friend Alain Emerson. I had just returned from Uganda as he was leaving to go. “I’ll kiss the African sun for you,” he texted.

It made me think of mission and what we do here. It reminded me of the school he founded here, for his late wife, who features in those first lines. 

The key, though, is the last line, “let that African sun kiss you.” Go and give but take in what’s given back to you.

The Sunday before I left Fitzroy I preached from Philippians 4. I find that here is where Paul begins to touch on, what I call, mutual partnership in mission.

As I see it, when our Fitzroy team arrives here on July 3rd, they will be on mission. We will be sharing the good news of Jesus in words and deeds, helping to bring a little more of the kingdom of God to a little community on the edge off Arua, on the edge of north west Uganda. Mission!

But running alongside that will be Retreat. Some go on retreat to a monastery or quiet places set up for contemplation or teaching. Retreats are for finding a different space to be inspired and refilled by the Holy Spirit. For our team Arua will be that kind of space. I always come away refreshed in my soul. Retreat!

So… mission… kissing the African sun.

So … retreat… allowing the African sun to kiss you.

So… mission and retreat on the one trip, different but mingling together. 


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!


Day Of Reflection 18

Healing Through Remembering created the idea of a Day Of Private Reflection on Jun 21st, the longest day, every year to honor the people who were killed in the conflict in and about Northern Ireland or affected by it in any way. It is offered as a day of private reflection therefore no large public events should be held on this day. 

I send this short Scripture/prayer/reflection for your resourcing of the day.

Psalm 91: 1&4

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.


God we have found a place in your arms

Felt the soft tender down of your wings

You love us as we are

You want so badly to comfort us and heal us

You want to help us to move on a step

To sow one seed in a future

We find it hard God

We feel stuck... frozen in time...

Frustrated with the paralysis of pain

Give us energy, love, forgiveness and hope for one step God

To sow one seed God

Give us your Holy Spirit to find strength

To nudge us forward to make this place a better place,

A safer place and a happier place.

Please God

In the name of the one who was lost and resurrected

That those of us who lose might believe in resurrection.



Js FOLTees

Let me tell you this morning about where the Stocki girls are off to today with mad excitement. I am jealous to have been left behind. We will get to Janice and Jasmine’s trip in a moment but let me tell you about the years in between that makes today’s trip so exciting! 

I cannot share in this excitement because this morning in the memoir Life In The Killing Fields, that I am working on, I am on a tractor with Trevor Stevenson, Revving Around Ireland as a fundraiser. 

Now, for those who are not up to date, I do not mean literally. No. I am in a bright apartment in Kampala, typing Trevor’s story, making it thinner, fitter and unable-to-be-put-downable! Today perhaps I wish he’d done the bungee jump! Tractors, even at top speed are hardly exhilarating. This is a tough one to make exciting. Just watch me!!

As I look out of the apartment window I find it hard to believe I am in Kampala. This is a part of that city that I now know well. How did we get here? I remember my friend Alain Emerson facebooking a photograph of Kampala, about seven years ago, and thinking that I had no real desire to go there. Oh how that changed. Oh how Alain played his part. And oh how this morning that story is all tangled up in excitement among the Stocki girls!

The back story is that while I was a Chaplain at Queens University, Alain was one of my students and latterly an intern working with me. His first wife Lindsay also lived in Derryvolgie Hall with us. Both came with us to Cape Town on our bi-annual Habitat For Humanity teams.

After Alain and Lindsay left university and got married they thought that our Chaplaincy model, of taking teams to Africa, was a good one. They signed up for their Church, Emmanuel in Lurgan, to do a Habitat For Humanity trip to Uganda. It didn’t work out so they changed organisation to Fields Of Life.

Sadly, after their first trip as a married couple Lindsay was experiencing severe headaches and after a short battle with cancer she passed away in April 2008. In her memory Emmanuel funded Light For All Secondary School in Janjira, about an hour outside Kampala.

In 2013, Fitzroy were just about to begin a halls extension project. We had just accepted a figure of £750,000 when I sat in at the back of a Fields of Life event in Fitzroy. I was there to support, Claire Nicholl (then Andrews) a member of Fitzroy who then worked for Fields of Life. 

Alain was telling the Light For All story. I knew it well. I sat nodding with the familiarity until he said, “and so for £75,000 we built a school in Uganda.” That was a light for me. It was like a flash out of the blue. For a tithe of our building fund we could build a school somewhere in the world! I suggested it to Fitzroy who immediately said yes! Of course a tithe of a building fund means you need to raise an extra tenth as if you didn’t you’d be a tenth short of your own bill! 

We did just that and after some research we eventually went with Fields of Life to build a school in Arua called Onialeku Primary School. We will be driving up there in a few days time and then a Fitzroy team of 24 will be going there in July!

So, we took Alain and Lindsay to South Africa and then they inspired us to follow them to Uganda. It is wonderful joining of a circle. 

And this morning, Jasmine, as part of her school work placement with Fields of Life in Kampala is doing a school visit with the Sponsorship team. Call it luck or serendipity or just the ways of God but with 120 schools that it could have been, the one she gets to visit is… you’ve guessed it… Light For All. 

I cannot tell what this means to us. Janice just could not resist gate crashing Jasmine’s work experience to go and see Lindsay’s School. I am so jealous. I have to write about tractors and butter and steaks. I promise to write well… 


Typing in Shalom

Today, I start typing. I am in a lovely apartment in Kampala. My daughter, Jasmine is on her school work experience in the Fields of Life offices, my wife Janice is reading a novel across the room and I have to start writing this book.

It has been eight months in the thinking. I do not mean in the thinking that I have to get down to writing it. No, I mean eight months of reading, re-reading and driving around Uganda listening to the stories within it in conversational form. 

I have felt that I have been working on a Rubik’s cube. Where should that paragraph go? How should that chapter start? If I drop that chapter, where could I then put that brilliant story? 

For those who do not know, I am ghost writing the Memoir of Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields of Life. Trevor has been working on his story for some years. I came in half way through. When we travelled together in January, Trevor had a good two thirds of the book written. Before we left Kampala for home I asked him to write various chapters for the last third.

In some ways my task will be therefore different in the first part. I had no creative shaping of those chapters. Trevor himself did not know whether he had enough words for a book and so was very detailed. There will be lots of editing of that first two thirds.

My job, as I see it, is to take this story and make it into a book that you will want to read. My aim is that it will become a memoir that you cannot put down. The story is here. Trevor’s story of how he, in very humble almost naive commitment to take the next step that Jesus seemed to be asking him to make, allowed God to do amazing things for children and communities all across east Africa.

The pages I am editing and rewriting this morning has plane crashes, bombs, hospital isolation for Ebola and financial scandal. That was just in one year! Yet, that is not the most amazing part. It is full of personal wrestling with God’s will, orientation to life in Africa, responding to call and discovering a vision. It is about watching seeds sown in faith, sometimes in faltering faith, growing into a harvest that the farmer, that Trevor was in the first part of his life, could never have imagined or dreamed.

Let me start typing… Life In The Killing Fields.


Lightbdy and Dad

It was only in a recent interview with Gary Lightbody that I discovered that it was a phrase of Lightbody’s father that gave Snow Patrol their biggest hit, Chasing Cars. Apparently Mr Lightbody senior believed that infatuated romance was just like dogs chasing cars. A lovely insight.

Gary Lightbody loves his dad. I have heard him send out his love to his folks from the stage. On his solo EP of songs, recorded live at Bangor Abbey and inspired by Seamus Heaney, we are driving around Ireland with his dad. On the song Lifening off Fallen Empires he sings:


To share what I've been given, some kids eventually

And be for them what I've had, a father like my dad


As with many of us, Gary is currently watching his ageing father heading into dementia. On the new Snow Patrol album Wildness he gives us a raw, emotional picture of such an ordeal. I am probably swaying towards favouring the alternative version on the deluxe edition of the record. I think the piano gives a little more melancholy and the brass adds poignancy. 

Soon takes us to the end of the cul-de-sac where there is no turning circle. The loss of memory… the looking back in a son’s head when a father cannot… and a realisation as he looked forward that we are next. His dad, in his every day the same as the last or the next, has less to fear than the son. 

The son’s memories though re-imagine his dad as he was:


We are standing on the home shores now

My whole hand hanging onto your thumb

There's a place in the palace of you

We can always be standing like that

We could hide in there, just as we were then

Just my father and I am just your son.


By the end the word son drifts further and further out in the mix, like the memory fading. Utterly sad. Totally brilliant. Beautiful heartache. Thank you Gary Lightbody for the empathy and catharsis.

I play Soon often on the melancholy journey to visit my father. I think about the song while I sit with him. On the way home I ponder the awakening reality that indeed I am next. 



Maybe 15 years ago, Cathleen Falsani, then with the Chicago Sun was doing an article on Bono and his faith for Christianity Today. She interviewed me to ask why U2’s lyrics and faith is such an important issues among evangelical Christians. I wrote this article which is still worth a post.

My initial response was that this was not a unique thing to evangelical Christians and U2. I was reading the jacket of a biography of Bill Hicks in a shop and I think it was John Lahr from the New Yorker was quoted as saying something like “the popular entertainers have become the unelected legislators of our time.” And so the lifestyles quotes and songs of most artists, whether it is the depth of Radiohead or the shallowness of Britney, is important if not crucially influential. So U2 is important for that reason alone but they have a special place of obsession within evangelical Christianity because there is a certainty among some and a suspicion among many that when you engage with their work and lives there is a Christian heart and soul to it.

Can I add at this point that if our popular entertainers are the unelected legislators, then Bono and U2 bring a depth of humanity and spirituality to that which is little short of salt and light into a culture where many of the unelected legislators are only selling hedonism, materialism and violence if anything at all! About a year ago I and my Church Of Ireland counterpart at Queens University were invited onto a BBC talk show to talk about whether the Church was dead. The host at one point said that he had been to Slane Castle the previous summer to watch U2 and asked us if we ever thought the Church would have that kind of influence over young people. My response was to say that if he was saying that rock stars are the ones who are today’s priests and preachers then I was delighted that U2 were the biggest band in the world because they bring a serious spiritual influence to bear.

In the interviews and the emails and letters I have been responding to since Walk On was published I have come to realise that there are two distinctly different reasons why people are so intrigued by every album that U2 releases, scouring the lyrics with Bible Study intensity. There are those for whom it is important because they have come to rely on U2 as a spiritual encouragement and inspiration. Believing them (particularly Bono and also Larry and Edge) to be without doubt followers of Christ this group of Christians have found the band a source of prophetic wisdom into the ways of the world and how faith caresses and collides with it.

I think too that this group are looking for more evidence that the band are still following. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, and I do not think this is at all wrong, they are encouraged, affirmed and given confidence in their own encounters with modern culture when they can feel a spiritual kinship with the biggest rock band in the world. It gives their faith credibility. Secondly and more trivially they are constantly battling an apologetics war with the suspicious group that the band is indeed still “walking with God.”

There is another group who are equally obsessed and that obsession is to be a judge and jury to the band’s faith and to prove without doubt that they are not Christians. When you stop to think about that it is a bizarre pastime but it alive and well and opens up a few things at the heart the evangelical psyche that need a good deal of investigation. Firstly, there is the judgementalism. This grouping is very determined to castigate and exclude and damn and do it with a fervent glee. There is a lack of gentleness and grace. At times there is a frightening viciousness.

When you look at where this comes from within the evangelical psyche it is hard to get past two things that are intrinsically linked; security and fear. This groups security is locked up in words and definitions. In one recent attack on Bono through my web page from someone who seemed very much in this grouping it was said that Bono had never even professed to be a Christian. If it was merely words that answered the query then I could very quickly have relieved the attacker’s ignorance though they may have responded by asking how recent Bono’s words were. The exactness of the time of the words is as crucial as the precision of the wording within this mindset.

This in itself needs a serious investigation. That a few words of how people define themselves are what we use as evidence for or against their inclusion in the community of believers is hugely suspect. On my first day as an assistant minister my very wise boss told me that I would visit people who were very quick to tell me the minute and hour of their conversion and talk length of their testimony. In other homes he said there would be little understanding of evangelical buzzwords or how to express faith. In time, he warned me, those quickest to talk about salvation would be oftentimes slowest to live it and those who found it hard to verbalise would prove themselves saints of God.

Yet, I think it is insecurity that makes us want to know and makes us keen to confine spiritual life to a well structured sentence of appropriate wording. If we do minimise it to that kind of size then we ourselves can be sure of our salvation because we are like everyone else in on the salvation train. If we open our inclusively to blurred definitions then how does that effect our own security. Of course the fixated tendency to want to draw lines between the saved and the damned itself is something that leads to all kinds of varieties of unkind behaviour towards the “outsider” or those we are determined to keep as outsiders until they become exactly like us.

Peter Mullan is the director of a new movie on The Magdalene Sisters, horrific institutions in Ireland where nuns literally imprisoned unmarried mothers and abused their human rights in various ways during the late fifties and early sixties. In a TV interview with BBC Northern Ireland’s Ralph McLean, Mullan said that when he asked a nun how this tragedy was able to happen her reply was “the absence of doubt.” This is a profound truth that is not only the cause of misdemeanours within Roman Catholicism but also many areas of spiritual abuse within evangelical Christianity. How can people lambaste and damn Bono and other believers in U2 and make every effort to keep them outside the community of the Kingdom, to destroy their character rather than pray and build them up? It is the absence of doubt because we are so arrogantly sure that we are infallible at how we accept and reject people from the fellowship of the Kingdom of God.

Of course Bono and Larry and Edge are not in the slightest interested in whether the evangelical Church accepts them or not. The “U2 apologetic” strand of my book would not be of the first bit of interest to them. They are only too aware that it is God who judges and it is God who offers grace. Indeed I do not think they have any interest in what the evangelical subculture thinks about them at any level. When they are speaking publicly, as Bono is more and more, about God and Scripture and how to live by that Scripture they are not carefully choosing their words to gain enough marks to pass some sceptic evangelical’s test. They are working within bigger contexts taking what they really believe to the world beyond the Christian ghetto and to reach that world they are happy to be misunderstood by the evangelical doubters who live in their absence of doubt world! Their faith is bigger, their vocation is bigger and their God is bigger.

The other reason that the doubters desire to rid themselves of any doubt over Bono’s damnation is fear. If this band’s message and lifestyle is Christian then it comes with huge challenges to the evangelical subculture. It will mean that the definition of a Christian as someone who does not smoke or drink or swear will have to be reconsidered. How then should we define a Christian? It would be fearful to think that the message and lifestyle of this band was what might fill the gap. Would that mean campaigning for the ridding of the world of Third World Debt, campaigning to get AIDS victims in Africa the same opportunity to have the drugs as those in the west have. Would it mean immersing ourselves in culture at the risk of being misunderstood within the evangelicalism that we find our security in.

In the end we have to ask if the evangelical subculture has become a mirror image of the comfortable western world so beautifully described by Radiohead - “no alarms and no surprises please.” If that is the spiritual life you want sit back in your comfortable chair and only break your relaxation to throw the odd judgemental hiss across the room at a few ordinary guys in extraordinary jobs trying to tumble and stumble on in their Christian pilgrimage, often times making mistakes along the way. If you want something more then do not be afraid to engage as they engage and take risks as they take risks. Alarms and surprises please!