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October 2018

September 2018



You are born
And before you know it
Your parents throw you a skittle
Catch it
Expectations of being like them
Thinking like them
Wearing what they think, to be respectable
Meeting their dreams
Finding a secure future in the job they’d like you to have
The spouse that they would like you to have
Making them proud...
Don’t drop it...
And you go off to school
And before you know it
Teachers are throwing you a skittle
To achieve and excel
To make the grade
To improve their school league tables
And to get you to University
To study that which would
Give you a secure future in the job that they’d like you to have
You better work, work, work
You better not drop it
Don’t drop it...
And you get a school break
And before you know it
You are trying to make friends
And trying to get into that gang
And your peers are throwing you a skittle
Wear what we wear
Like the music we like
Do what we do
Drink what we drink
Smoke what we smoke
Pray like we pray
Read the Bible like we read the Bible
Become like us
Because we are cool
And you need to be cool
To be given the same label of cool
You better get cool
You better conform
Don’t drop it...
You better juggle
You cannot hold all three skittles
Keep them all in the air
Don’t drop any
Even when your parents skittle
And your Church’s skittle
Clashes with your friends’ skittle
Keep them all up at the same time
Don’t drop one...
On Sunday you go to Church
And before you know it
The minister is throwing you a skittle
You better behave like this
It is Sunday wear this
Read this version of the Bible
Sing these kinds of songs
Do this with your hands
Believe this about baptism, tongues and predestination
And then you can belong
Only then
So you better just do as they say
Without thinking to much
Don’t drop it...
You better juggle
You cannot hold all three
Keep them all in the air
Don’t drop any
Even when your parents skittle
And your Church’s skittle
Clashes with your friends’ skittle
Keep them all up at the same time
Don’t drop one...
And you finally go off to University
And the freedom that brings
Throws you a skittle
Insecurity of being free
The inferiority of making new friends
The fear of not acting the right way in the freedom
The idea of not being good looking enough
Or talented enough
Or clever enough
Or spiritual enough
Or fashionable enough
Or free enough
Or too free
Will I ever find friends?
Will I ever fit in?
Don’t drop it
You better juggle
You cannot hold all three
Keep them all in the air
Don’t drop any
Even when your parents skittle
And your Church’s skittle
Clashes with your friends skittle
Keep them all up at the same time
Don’t drop one...
And God says
I love you
I died for you
I welcome you
Not by behaviour
Nor brains
Nor looks
Nor cool
Nor spirituality
I love you
I love you...
So much...
Now drop all those skittles
Catch this one
Unmerited favour
Loved as you are...
Into who you can become
With this one skittle
Catch it!


Burning Codes Liberator

Here are the albums that I have been most listening to in September...


Blue Rodeo are a Canadian band that should be known better outside their native Canada than they are. I have been buying their records since the early 90s, Lost Together being a favourite record. A week or two back I sought out a new record and discovered they had released a live record from Massey Hall, Toronto’s Royal Albert in 2014 and a studio record 1000 Arms in 2016. In retracing their steps I re-discovered The Things We Left behind, maybe one of their strongest collections, spanning tow CDs with their Neil Young Harvest sounding alt country.



Mid seventies and still releasing quality albums. My review... HERE



Egypt Station sent me off gathering Macca extra tracks. I discovered their were Tribute record contributions I didn’t have and that he had released a song on a soundtrack Ethel and Ernest that I knew nothing about. I sought out various curios and then compiled a playlist for CDR. I rather like it. Check it out… HERE



The Canadians get urgent about the state of the world and love. To be reckoned with for sure. Review… HERE



A new Perryman Jones album. Wonderful. Matthew’s records send me into meditation. he has a poetic flair, delves the depths of humanity and his voice and melodies sneak under your ears to steal into your heart and soul.



Full on guitar onslaught from Bangor boy Paul Archer’s collaborative. You know that they love the Pixies and they might not mean it but the only other band that does what they do with melodies as instant as these is Ash.



Paul Simon redoes some of his old songs that he doesn’t feel got a fair arranging or hearing at the time of release. He the adds players like Wynton Marsalis and Bill Frisell as well as yMusic. Different settings for sure and some work very well, while one of two not so much. Overall excellent. Make it a series Paul, please!



Belfast born, Minneapolis living Ben Kyle is just a massive favourite. The voice, the songs, the soothing tunes. My review… HERE



A recent discovery. More Canadians! My review... HERE



This Indiana boy gave Belfast a couple fo his best years and got a few songs out of it. His awesome voice is now being matched with quality songs. Review… HERE


Back To egypt

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy the Lectionary takes us into the wilderness. We will be journeying with the Children of Israel as they seek to live between slavery and the Promised Land. They are starting to grumble and the question needs to be asked, "Do You Wanna Go Back To Egypt?" Singer Keith Green sang about this back in the 80s:

So you wanna go back to Egypt
Where it's warm and secure
Are sorry you bought the one way ticket
When you thought you were sure
You wanted to live in the land of promise
But now it's getting so hard
Are you sorry you're out here in the desert
Instead of your own back yard

Around the same time another Christian singer Bryn Haworth:

Hey child do you remember
All those things that you used to do
All those empty so called pleasures
Well they still keep calling you,
And the voice that comes to tempt you
It just won't let the old man die,
So when he asks those same old
You just give him the same reply.

I don't wanna go back to Egypt
I wanna live in the Promised Land.
I don't wanna go back to Egypt
I wanna live in the Promised Land.

We will look at what we have left behind, what is up ahead and in this strange land we meander, how we are called to live. 

In the evening (7pm) we begin a wonderful new series on How To Read The Bible. We will be looking at all the books, their context and purpose. This will be monthly series. Please see it as a resource for all. We begin with Paul Lutton's Introduction to the series under the title: The Surprises In Scripture. Details Here




I love those extra tracks that my favourite artist releases and spent my youth making cassette tapes of these extra tracks. In the past few weeks I started collecting Paul McCartney's extra tracks. I finally put them together in this playlist that fits a CDR. I love it, the songs and the flow of them. If you fancy it...

1. It’s So Easy - from Rave On Buddy Holly

2. I Want To Walk You Home (featuring Allen Toussaint) - from Goin’ Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino

3. A Love For You - from Ram (Disc 2)

4. Vanilla Sky - from Vanilla Sky Soundtrack

5. In The Blink Of An Eye - from Ethel and Ernest Soundtrack 

6. Lady Madonna -  from BBC Radio 2: Piano Room

7. That’s All Right - from Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun records

8. Cut Me Some Slack (featuring David Grohl, Krist Novoselic & Pat Smear - from Sound City: Real To Reel

9. Strawberry Fields Forever/Help/Give Peace A Chance - from All My Trials CD single

10. All Things Must Pass - from Concert For George

11. All My Trials - from Tripping The Live Fantastic: Highlights

12. Hope For The Future - Hope For The Future EP

13. Maybe Baby - Maybe Baby Soundtrack

14. I’m Partial To Your Abracababra - Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute To Ian Dury

15. A  Room With A View - Twentieth Century Blues: The Songs Of Noel Coward

16. Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying - Inspired By Genius: Music Of Ray Charles

17. It’s Now Or Never - The Last Temptation of Elvis: An All Star Tribute

18. My Soul (with Nitin Sawhney) - single

19. Heal The Pain (with George Michael) - Twenty Five

20. I’m In Love Again (with Klaus Voorman) - A Sideman’s Journey

21. The Very Thought Of You (with Tony Bennett) - Duets: An American Classic

22. Love Song On The Earth - single


Me and dad 2

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. 


Bible Reading
Northern Ireland evangelicalism, our predominant strain of Protestantism, has a strong feeling about the Bible. The Bible has the final authority. Some would even wish to say Sola Scriptura, that the Bible is the only influence on our doctrine and discipleship. Even though the role of Scripture is central, to imagine that outside factors of culture don't taint our reading says something of the possible naivety of that position.
Yet, in a country that reads the Bible so much we seem to understand it so little. Reading verses out of context. Reading it like it is all one book without understanding that there are different contexts, genres of writing and intentions of different editors.
We read daily verses like they are Chinese fortune cookies, looking for a hopeful wish rather than substantial truth. We read passages in daily devotions without reference to what happens before and after the verses we are studying. We use it as if it has magic powers which is more like the Islamic view of the Koran than any Judeo- Christian theology. 
One of the benefits I have found in my ministry in Fitzroy has been that while preaching from The Lectionary I have had to better understand the context of passages and the editor's intention for them and the entire book. Like many in Northern Ireland I had a lazy approach to Scripture, treating it as one seamless whole rather than 66 books over hundreds of years, every book being different. 
So I am excited about a new series we are doing in Fitzroy that aims to increase our Bible literacy. This series will take us through the books of the Bible and help us understand the context and purpose of the book. I am thrilled with the calibre of our contributors. They are Biblically literate and theologically articulate. 
Please see it as a resource to all. They will all be at 7.00pm in Fitzroy. It would be great to see you.
September 30 - How to Read the Bible; An Introduction - Paul Lutton 
October 14 - Genesis - Desi Alexander
November 11 - Exodus - James McKeown
December 2 - Leviticus - David Livingstone
January 13 - Numbers - Graham McGeown.
February 10 - Deuteronomy - Kim Walsh
March 10, Joshua - Stephen Williams
April 7 - Judges/Ruth - Roz Stirling
May 12 - 1 & 2 Samuel - Cindy Brown
June 9 - 1 & 2 Kings - Stephen McIlwaine.


Jed in Church

Odie had been a popular Manse dog. Oh he was big and loud when people arrived at the door but in the end he calmed down and was big and lovable. It was comforting for us how many people sent their thoughts when he passed away.

When we were picking a new pup we were aware that he would have a public life. Jed needed to be sociable. His life would be full of Fitzroy.

So, we decided, or maybe I did, to introduce Jed to Fitzroy as soon as possible. I had this idea of a Children’s Talk. To be honest It meant that I had a great way of capturing the children’s attention.

The problem was that we only had Jed for a few weeks and he was only 17 weeks old. How would he react to a Church full of people and twenty to thirty children right in his face. This could have turned into the Vicar of Dibley. What was I thinking?

As I opened the door for Janice and Caitlin to bring him in, I was a tad nervous. I shouldn’t have been. Jed took to public life like a proverbial duck to water! He was calm. He sat there. If only he was like this all the time. He allowed all the children to pet him. A wonderful first gig!

So, what did I bring out of it? Well, it was a strong message that I have been using for years. Indeed, my Youth Director Paul Bowman had shared it with me. A new dog in the house was a perfect illustration.

Jed was loved from the moment he ran out of the cage in the yard he was born and bred in. By the time he was in the car he was a Stockman. He belonged. 

Now, we were in for a little fun. A new pup, away from his mother and siblings takes time to settle. There was some house training to do. The odd wee wee and poo certainly added to life back from sabbatical. There was a bit of mad running around. For a 15 week old dog a front room might as well be a back yard. That sofa looks like a wall. Let’s climb! Balls of wool? Great fun. Jed sent us a little mad at times but he belonged. He was loved.

We knew that better behaviour would come. Jed’s sense of belonging was going to help that. We were going to be those who would give him the guidance to change the behaviour. Behaviour would come long after belonging.

That is a great message for any believer. Particularly children in Church. Your good behaviour is not what gets you into God’s love. God’s love comes first. He takes the action that invites belonging. His grace makes us heirs. The behaviour is driven by the grace and the belonging. 

With Jesus, you belong first, believe second and behaviour is further down the line. That is what I want our children to know. I hope that Jed knows it too!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2: 8-10)



There have been many tragic consequences to our sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland. It was not long into tonight’s concert when I was aware of another one. Apart from once when I was astounded to hear Uillean pipes from underneath the pulpit I was working in near Ballyclare Irish traditional music is a rarity within Protestant Churches. Yet, tonight there was such a spiritual essence to the music that I felt we had been robbed of a nourishing resource, so close to us and yet so far.

The back story is that Kiran Young Wimberly, an American, arrived in Belfast to minister along with her husband. They are both Presbyterian ministers. Kiran expected more Irish traditional music influencing Northern Irish Church worship. 

Not finding it, she started writing her own songs. She started to bring her love for the Psalms together with Irish and Scottish airs. The final piece was coming across the McGrath Family from Dungannon who were able to give the tunes the authentic Irish vocal sound with Declan McGrath giving the Celtic rhythms.

This collaborative of Presbyterian minister and Catholic pub owning family are now three albums in. Tonight, enhanced by Lisa McKinney’s ethereal cello and the dexterity of Helen Killick’s fiddle, we were treated to the very best of those albums. 

The sound in Fitzroy is perfect. Top job Chris Clotworthy. The music is as good as the best Irish trad sessions you’ll hear anywhere across the island this week. Helen Killick’s fiddle is particularly vibrant and evocative. Highlight of highlights are the harmonies. They could fill a Cathedral. 

The songs are shared. Kiran is happy to give out her songs to the McGarth girls. Ellen is like a young Dolores Keane, Chloe more Adele. Such strong confident voices. Kelly, the mother, adds another harmony. Even Declan takes a lead. 

Kiran’s theology and pastoral ministry adds to the deal. She knows how to draw out these ancient Psalms, giving them meaning as prayers, as hymns and people’s stories.  

Psalm 23 is lifted out of its funeral familiarity and given its full depth and breadth. 

Psalm 55 is a human, hurt and seeking shelter and belonging. It would be the single if such things were needed from such records. 

Psalm 144 begins in war and ends with peace, relevant in a land well used to violence and somehow reconciled in tonight’s art.

Best of all is Psalm 84. How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place to the tune of Carrickfergus. Now, this might be subjective as I have loved Carrickfergus since I first heard Bryan Ferry’s version back in the mid 70s but oh my it is a wonder stroke. 

The entire thing is a musical and spiritual success. To hear these familiar Psalms to familiar tunes but in unfamiliar combination is like hearing Ireland’s version of soul music. It is light on the ear, gives a jig to the body and brings balm to the soul. 


Last First

The Gospel is a strange thing 

It flies in the face of the world

That seeks honour, prestige, power and fame

The Gospel is a paradigm shift

Built on an utterly mad idea

That the first should became last

So that those who are last could become first

Holiness is found in association

In association with 

The poor

The meek

The marginalised

The key to spiritual fulfilment

Is looking outside of yourself

To those who are beneath you

The crux of spiritual greatness

Is not ascending the social ladder 

But in descending it, 

Taking the lowest place

Among those of a lowly position

That is the greatness of love

That is the cross carrying love 

That makes the soul great.


Fitzroy Ashbridge 1

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be asking a question that not only defines how effective our Jesus discipleship is going to be but also a question that society needs to as as well. What is greatness? We will then see that God's model for this is utter insane madness. It flies in the face of our cultural norm. It turns it all upside down. With a close look at Mark 9 we will be seeking clues for a more Christlike life within us and what the Jesus paradigm might do if politicians or anyone else for that matter implemented it. 

In the evening (7pm) we are delighted to have Kiran Young Wimberly accompanied by the McGrath family playing their Psalms. This will be a reflective evening where we will bask in the sound of Irish traditional tunes underlaying the poetry of the Psalms. It will be soothing balm for the soul within and a subversive statement about the riches of our differences in our divided society. Suggested £7 donation.