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October 2018


Angel's Share

(I took this photo recently and it reminded me of this poem.

I wrote it as a kind of Psalm of praise to God for Ballycastle, where we spend so much of our leisure time.  

The first verse is standing where the river meets the sea in Ballycastle. The second verse was written as I showed a few American friends around Dunluce castle. I was looking out the gap of an old window and
one of the stones of the castle ruins was the same shape as the Giant’s Causeway,
sitting round the coast in the direction that I was looking.

The Angel’s Share is the aroma that wafts off the vats at the Bushmills’ whiskey distillery. I
named my last night chat show at Greenbelt that for a few years. Rich Mullins’
song Colour Green was the idea for the last verse…)


The moon is walking on the water

From her home above Fair Head

Like a light bulb lit up in heaven

Much more beautiful without a lamp shade

Like a ballerina she shimmers across

Just gently skimming off the dance floor

Gliding on the waves in her yellow dress

Before waltzing up along the seashore

And two gulls shooting the evening breeze

How they spent there day and where

And alone I stand in epiphany

Breathing in the angel’s share.


I’m gazing out the eastern window

To these ancient walls rich seam

Born in a clash of volcano and sea

Erupting from the sculptor of heaven’s dreams

And west, I see a painting hangs

Of eternal colour and deepest mystery

Six short days to set up the canvas

Then sketching on by the numbers of history

And friends are taking photographs

Faded imitations of what is there

And alone I stand in epiphany

Breathing in the angel’s share.


From where in your imagination came waves caressing

Where in eternity did you think blue sea

From where the depth and breadth of ocean

And where did you come up with me

From where in your imagination came the sun descending

Where in eternity did you think red sky

From where did you conjure the dream of love

And the idea that you’d have to die

The idea that you’d have to die

The idea that God would have to die.


Leicester mourns

Football is working through a very sad week. News of Glenn Hoddle’s heart attack caused a reaction across the sport. He was a hero. Gifted as a player. Creative as a coach. As a pundit, I enjoyed his tactical insight. He is loved. Our prayers are with him and his family.

Then, not many hours later, the Leicester City Chairman’s helicopter goes down in the streets beside the stadium. There is shock and grief at the loss of life.

A lot of us probably didn’t know the Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s, name but we knew his face and that amazing achievement of winning the Premiership for little Leicester City. Even as a City fan, who should have been winning it that season, I loved that Leicester did instead! 

What has struck me over the days since, has been the camaraderie of the football community. Everybody wants Glenn Hoddle well again. Every club sent their condolences to Leicester City. There was a wonderful sense of unity. Our humanity overcomes rivalry. 

Of course that is how it should be. My own prayers go out to Vichai’s wife and family and those Leicester players, and members of staff, who genuinely loved the man, not just his investment. Kasper Schmeichel running towards the crash said so much. As did Riyad Mahrez’s tribute after scoring for Manchester City last night.

However, it is not how football mostly is. I watch every weekend at the abuse that fans give the opposition’s players and fellow fans. It is angry vicious vitriol mostly enhanced by hand and finger gestures. I have been to matches and heard the abuse that referees, the opposition and even the team that fans are supporting receive. There are tirades of raw visceral hatred. I often wonder if there is something in the modern adult male that needs this place to vent something of the sadness and melancholy of a British life. 

It all seems dangerously uncivil to me. Of course there should be banter and a competitive spirit. Surely that can be healthy and humorous and actually add to the sporting atmosphere. I have enjoyed some good Rugby banter with fans of other teams and countries, standing side by side at matches. Less police needed there to separate supporters. 

What I am saying, on the very saddest of footballing weeks is that that same love and camaraderie in these moments of tragedy should be held and treasured. This feeling of one big soccer family should be nurtured that it might flourish, every single week in the stadiums of the beautiful game. 

I never want to contradict the great Bill Shankly but let me. This week he was proved wrong. It is not a matter of life an death. It is NOT more important than that.


U2 Barricage

I am the minister of a congregation who know and love their arts. However, like in many heady christian gatherings of people in their 50s and 60s I find that they might not get the rock thing. Too low brow. I remember speaking about U2 at Regent College, Vancouver and telling them that there has been fresh art since CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. Indeed the day Lewis died, The Beatles were number 1 in America. More recently, the greatest of all sneakers past the dragons at the door are U2!

During the first night of the Songs of Experience Belfast gig, I wished for a moment that my high brow arts friends in Fitzroy could just get through the low brow guitar riffed loudness. They would love it. I had perfect seats, able to take in the main stage at one end of the venue, the small stage at the other and be face on to the Barricage that doubles as a stage and cinema screen, sometimes both at once.

There was theatre, expensive theatre. There was cinema, extravagant cinema. There was performance art; scary performance art. There was poetry; deep and clever rhymes. There was Church; uplifting worshipful Church. There was more in the social commentary, political critique and the spiritual deep soul delving. This is one extravagant show. Jeff Lynne’s ELO had rocked this same house the night before. It was wonderful but compared to this… ELO were Everton to U2’s Manchester City (the money, the imagination and the delivery).

The first four songs blew me away. I was looking forward to the show but to be truthful had not taken as much interest in this tour. A few seconds into The Blackout and I my heart pumped. What a scene setter for Bono’s near death experience and the state of Trump’s America and Brexit Europe. Add our local Stormont impasse and extinction looks probable.

Then Lights Of Home. Please note immediately that the opening two songs are off their brand new record. ELO had only one song from the past 25 years! This is fresh. In Lights of Home we are still near death. Bono walks up the barricage, his steps lined by stars. It is the stairway to heaven and he kneels at the very gate. This is emotional spiritual stuff from the get go.

Then… heading to the big stage he introduces the band from the north side of Dublin, formerly known as The Hype and boom, I Will Follow. It is exhilarating and those of us there from the start are stoked. It still sounds fresh and contemporary. Immediately into Gloria and to my utter surprise, from nowhere, tears are running down my face. The power. The spiritual power. The first U2 song that I dropped the needle on to. It was like a revival in my soul. My teenage exuberance of faith was ablaze.

If I said it was worth the price of the ticket for those four songs, would I be suggesting that there was something amiss with the rest of the show?! Not at all. When I was in the Boys Brigade drama group, back in the day, I was taught to use the entire stage. U2 use the entire arena! Moving from stage to stage, and Edge and Adam even appearing as if by witchcraft on pop up stages, this band achieve their ambition of making big venues intimate.

U2 B Stage

Taking Joshua Tree songs out of the mix was a risk. They had of course toured that entire album last year. Can you, however, leave De Bruyne, Silva and Aguero on the bench and still win the Premiership. You can when you have Jesus, Bernardo and Mahrez on the bench. Tonight, in a set list sense, was about Achtung Baby. Five songs from that album took the centre of the concert.

Speaking to my friend Tim later I couldn't have agreed with him more when he suggested that these songs were written when the band were having relational struggles and spiritual fall out. They're using these songs to help us unpack what we are politically and socially struggling through in 2018. Acrobat never performed before this tour taking us into a section of personal soul searching.

Bono’s chat tonight seemed less staged, more actual conversational. We had a story about driving round Belfast in a tiny car with Squeeze, Adam in the boot and British soldiers outside it! We had shout outs to various place names. I was delighted to hear Fitzroy though it was in context of the streets in Van Morrison’s Madame George.

Into Acrobat and down on the smaller stage Bono, all in make up and top hat, started conversing about the temptations of fame. Enter McPhisto with some rather grotesque camera tricks and CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters were alive and well again as on the Zooropa tour, twenty five years ago. Bono asked about addictions and after alcohol and chemicals he finished with “The Holy Spirit - I hope so!” 


The devil’s buddy claimed cash for ash and the impasse at Stormont, telling our politicians, “Remember when you don’t believe in me… that is when I do my best work.” McPhisto wasn’t missing tonight!

Bringing it home, we had Pride dedicated to John Hume for his peace making. I often wonder has Bono heard of Fr Alec Reid who opened it up for Hume. There was a statement about north and south being “smart and strategic” whatever the border ends up. There was a huge European flag. Women took centre stage of our hope in Ivor Cutler’s song Women of the World.

At the outset Bono had explained the Songs Of Experience album and tour following the Songs of Innocence version. He gave a direction for the evening, “that in the far end of experience you can again recover that innocence. This is the tale we are trying to tell.” Did they? I think so. They took us through their career. We started with spiritual innocence maybe naivety, we lingered over the temptations and the blackout of a fallen world. 

The last batch were about uplight. redemption, new world’s of light and one-ness. The final preacher’s punch in the rock show theatre of sermon was that Love is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way… and then…

… the perfect end. During the Songs Of Innocence Tour, a song took unexpected centre stage. In the aftermath of the Paris Bataclan massacre, another evil act in the name of religion, it would have been easy to give up on any idea of God and chant the “I don’t believe anymore” of Raised By Wolves. Bono though held tight to lines from Song For Someone.


"I know there's so many reasons to doubt

But there is a light 

Don't let it go out”


Tonight, after all the experience of Zoo Station, The Fly, Vertigo and Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Bono walks back down the centre of the SSE in search of that innocence. He sings 13 There Is A Light. The visuals signal Cedarwood Road and there, again as if by magic, a house. Bono walks up and lifts off the roof before pulling out a light bulb. 

Bono and Bulb

It is the same light bulb that became the image of the Songs Of Innocence Tour“But there is a light/Don’t let it go out”. Bono throws the bulb into the Saturday night sky of experience. It swings precariously, as it did on the main stage at the very beginning of the Songs Of Innocence concert. Bono leaves… and it swings… benediction, the end… of the night… of this particular U2 era… I think so… still holding on to that light! 

photo credits: Janice Stockman, David Cleland, Karen Gilmore and Lydia Coates



photo: Janice Stockman

You could accuse Jeff Lynne of bragging before he takes the stage tonight at Belfast’s SSE. The pre gig playlist is made up of songs that he has produced. Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and even The Beatles for goodness sake. It sets out the pedigree. It reminds you of Lynne's his place in rock music history even before an ELO cello gets bowed.

I am no fan of nostalgia concert tours or Beatle rip off bands. Tonight, Lynne with his very own ELO, as opposed to all the other versions, might have been proven guilty of both. Yet, it was fantastic! Did I mention his place in rock history?!

There is a thin line between history and nostalgia. There was a whole lot of nostalgia in this show. Apart from When I Was A Boy from Lynne’s 2015 ELO record Alone In The Universe and Handle Me With Care, a song from his other band The Travelling Wilburys all these songs were written before 1981! The film snippets of The Wilbury’s got the obligatory cheer. I was again surprised at how moved I was with Tom Petty’s face. I haven’t got over his loss! 

The fans loved it all. They weren’t young. I imagined a range from 60 to 50, all finding Radio 1 in their teens and if they did then you can be sure that from 1973 to1979 an ELO song was pumping out. For the older ones it might have been Evil Woman or Showdown. For the younger then it would have been Last Train to London or Shine A Little Light. The younger ones might never even have heard of 10538 Overture!

My mate David was a fan before me. He had Face The Music. For me it was Livin’ Thing that finally made me a fan. Then Rockaria, still my favourite as was almost everything on A New World Record. Not that the ELO fans filling the SSE tonight were an album deep sort of crowd. Lynne, machine gun fired the hits, bang bang bang. Everyone a gem!

A New World Record was released at the end of the summer of 1976, the summer I fell madly in love with The Beatles. People were likening Telephone Line et al with The Beatles. My ears were too young to hear it. I guess when Lynne finally produced not only George Harrison and Paul McCartney but actually The Beatles I got his obsession. Tonight I could hear Lennon’s bluesy sounds, Harrisonesque guitar, the harmonies and the fulness of sound of Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. I could even hear Paul McCartney doing a song like When I Was A Boy!

Yet, unlike the crude theft that Oasis would do of The Beatles in the 90s, Lynne took inspirations, sometimes obvious but he was also magpie picking other glittery sounds. You can hear The Moody Blues and even post Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees in there too. When Lynne finally patched those sounds together he had come up with this symphonic pop music that was lush, uplifting and utterly beautiful.

Tonight with a crack band of players and singers it sounded deep pile. The sounds washed over you and the visuals too. It was a big symphonic sound and as well as the light show it was impressive. At the end of Mr Blue Sky, before a partying version of Roll Over Beethoven, there was a sense to me that the standing ovation was not just about the last two hours but about those ten years in the 70s when Jeff Lynne with his ELO put the most amazing body of work together. 


U2 Blackout

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be unpacking sections of Mark 10 and Jeremiah 31 with various contemporary scenarios. U2 are in town and even a casual look at Blind Bartimeaus and the people of God’s Babylonian exile draws you their song The Blackout that will pump out across the SSE arena this evening. 

It is a song that started in Bono’s own personal near death experience but then added Trump and Brexit. I would want to add into this bleakness this week’s memorial to the Shankill bomb and the current state of the Church.

Yet, in the Blackouts of blindness, exile and Bono’s world, personally and globally, there is a light, a love that in the end is all we have left. What are the clues in the Biblical text and in U2’s Songs Of Experience tour that can help us find cheer, hope and consolation? Expect many many more references once I've soaked the texts in the actual concert tonight!

Our worship will be in our traditional Sunday cycle. Usually guitar riff led, tomorrow we will be of a more classical bent. Richard Guthrie’s Ulster Orchestra viola with the David Livingstone’s near New Orleans jazz piano will take us into hymns that have lasted the test of time. 

All Welcome!



U2 Lights Of Home Remix

“Watch out for this one. It’s one of the most extraordinary things we’ve ever had the good fortune of being a part of,” said Bono about Lights of Home on the recent U2 at the BBC TV show. Hs words fill me with excited anticipation as to what the band might do with the song on the Songs Of Experience Tour. Gigantic clues to what U2 songs mean are always found in their live context.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Lights Of Home is one of Bono’s most personal songs. It is a man looking down the barrel of his mortality and catching a glimpse of the immortality he believes in. 

Bono goes straight to the heart of it in the very first line:


"Shouldn't be here 'cause I should be dead

I can see the lights in front of me"


Thankfully all seems immediately healthier:


“I believe my best days are ahead

I can see the lights in front of me.”


This health scare of Bono’s was not dealt with in the ease of the next rhyming couplet. 

His lines… 


“Oh Jesus if I’m still your friend

What the hell

What the hell have you got for me”


… are a cry of prayer.


In the revealing liner notes with Songs Of Experience Bono writes about a crisis of faith: -


“I had to fight harder for that faith

To make out ‘the still small voice”

I had to pull down the blinds on the world

Shut out the background and foreground noises, the interference

Turn down the volume of my crowded mind to hear that still, soft voice that promises the peace that passes all understanding…”


This section of the liner notes are particularly spiritual. Bono moves to this theme of home: 


“The time to return home, to discover it wasn’t a place, it was a face, it was more than a few faces but her heart was my home


The lights of home

In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, I read Psalm 100 - “Enter with the password ‘thank you’ and make yourself at home.”

What a line.”


It is not the first time Bono has quoted or stolen a poetic phrase from Eugene Peterson, his favourite spiritual writer and a man who he had gotten to know over recent years. Check out the revelatory short film Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms.  Sadly Eugene passed away this very week.

In Lights of Home Bono is again blending and blurring his wife Ali and God. Bono’s old mate T-Bone Burnett used have the women in his songs represent America as well. For Bono it is God and the love of his life. Both Ali and God entered his life in the same mid teens when he met the other guys in U2. His life in his depth of spirituality is wrapped up in them all. Ali is a conduit for God in his life. She is his pastor and spiritual mentor. He has very often found answers in that woman's eyes! 

The home here is that refuge from the world he finds in his Killiney home where Ali and his four kids keep him sane and rooted. It is also that place where we meet God, in the end in all its fulness. Bono has certainly been considering the end.


“One more push and I’ll be born again

One more road you can’t travel with a friend

Saw a statue of a gold guitar

Bright lights right in front of me”


When I first heard the song I thought that the gold guitar was an image of the golden calf, an idol that the Children of Israel created in the wilderness. After more listening I wonder if it is the fulfilment of Bono’s vocation that will find its completeness in the golden streets of heaven. It may be either or both. For Bono the leaving of this life is to rebirth in the next. The journey we all travel alone. The lights of home.

The mantra at the songs end is…


“Free yourself to be yourself

If only you could see yourself.”


The entire Songs Of Experience dissertation is around the idea that if we start at the end, looking back from the afterlife we might be more honest with ourselves and everything else. We will have nothing to lose from there.


Fr Alec and Soldier

This week's Pause for Thought theme was Peace Ambassadors

Nikki, when I became the minister of Fitzroy nine years ago I walked into a community of Peace Ambassadors. My predecessor Rev Dr Ken Newell had built a relationship with Fr Gerry Reynolds from Clonard Monastery, run by the Redemptorist Order, on Belfast’s Falls Road. They founded the Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship still going strong today.

Early meetings of the Northern Ireland peace talks were held in Clonard and Ken with other members of Fitzroy were involved in the discussions. The work of Gerry and Ken and the Fellowship was recognised when in 1999 they were awarded the prestigious Pax Christi Peace Prize. 

Fr Gerry and Rev Ken however would recognise another Redemptorist priest from Clonard as the actual architect of the peace process. Fr Alec Reid got to a point in Belfast’s mid 80s where he could not reconcile his faith in Jesus with doing nothing about the violence going on in the streets around him.

One Saturday afternoon Fr Alec found himself in the middle of that violence. In a 14 day period where killing had gone viral, two British soldiers accidentally drove into an IRA funeral cortege. 

Fr Alec risked his own life in a vain attempt to save the soldiers. Minutes later he is photographed, with the soldiers blood on his face, having tried to give them the kiss of life. They died.

Unknown to everyone, Fr Alec was at the funeral to receive a letter from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. The letter had the conditions by which Sinn Fein would enter peace talks with politician John Hume. That same afternoon Fr Alec drove to Derry and handed the letter to John Hume. It would be six years before we had peace but it started right there.

It is an unbelievable story of one man who had faith in a radical Jesus and who believed that peace making was at the heart of that faith. Believing was not enough though and he went into the very vortex of the violence to make connections that brought the peace we enjoy today.

Ken Newell describes Alec as the electrician of our peace. He brought the two wires together that ignited a long journey to reconciliation. 

EVERY SINGLE DAY - On The 25th Anniversary of the Shankill Bomb

Alan McBride

She would have looked up and smiled

The light of Jesus shining through her

Warm words and those bright eyes

Known by everyone who knew her

Sensitive to something somehow  

She would charmed his nervous frown

Been a welcome calm to uneasiness

Before he set it down.


And he blew her away

Blew her away from you

Blew her away from her daughter

And everything she still had to do.


That mark across your heart

It wasn’t a scar that I saw

It was still a hurting open wound

Still bloody and raw

The preacher speaks forgiveness

You honestly do not know

But the bitterness will not twist your soul

So you let it go.


Today we will remember

You remember every single day

Wake up with her love on your mind

They can’t blow that away.


Eugene P

I had the privilege of interviewing many fascinating people but I was very excited to get Eugene Peterson in a chair beside me. It was Presbyterian Special Assembly in Coleraine and the tent was filled with a couple of thousand people. I started asking a few questions about his life. It might have been a struggle with my accent but after the first three attempts I had no answers, just embarrassing silence. It was the very worst interview of my life.

Fortunately, Eugene and I had a mutual friend, David Montgomery, playing piano on the chat show and Monty shouted, “Ask him about the Church extension forms he had to fill in while he was pastor in Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Maryland.”

Eugene’s eyes lit up and he went off on a monologue, that left me with nothing to do but lick the wounds of my failed attempts to be Michael Parkinson. Eugene was a humble, shy, quiet man. He had a gentle voice. He was a better writer than a speaker. Yet, that night he went off on one. He was alive, articulate, mischievous and funny. 

Eugene explained that Christ Our King was a missional Church. He was the pioneer minister and had to send forms back to head office. These forms were supposed to assess the progress but Eugene was suspicious that they were not being read. Eugene therefore started slipping a few spoof stories into the forms. One year he had had an affair with the organist, another year he was drinking too much and finally he wrote about communion services taking off when the youth group brought back some interesting mushrooms from Mexico!

There was never a response. Every so many years he had to go for an interview in person. He asked why they didn’t read his forms?! They said they did and he asked why…

Peterson didn’t say it explicitly and I was to numb from the earlier silences to analyse the story but it tells us a lot about Eugene Peterson. He had no time for time wasting and always looked deeper than nice appearances. He was lofty in his theological thoughts but always had his feet on the ground. He was wonderfully imaginative. 

It was his art and imagination that mentored me. As someone who always leaned on the arts, particularly songwriters, I needed a major theological voice to endorse my sensibilities. After we got married Janice and I read a book of Peterson’s Daily Devotions and he opened us up to writers like Anne Tyler. Peterson believed that writers were important in helping us humanise people. He saw the poetry of the prophets and the prophetic power of poetry! Amen, I shouted! 

It was not long after that until Eugene was in a relationship with U2, particularly Bono. Bono was a fan of The Message, Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, but also his other books. As you listen to U2 songs or Bono in conversation you might find a Peterson phrase. I had credited Bono for a phase I use a lot, “interruptions of grace”, and then I read it in A Long Obedience In The Same Direction!

Bono sought Eugene out.. It took time as Peterson had never heard of U2. He was finally introduced to their work and wrote this in a foreword for a book that I was honoured to contribute to, Get Up Off Your Knees, Preaching The U2 Catalogue:

"Is U2 a prophetic voice? I rather think so. And many of my friends think so. If they do not explicitly proclaim the Kingdom, they certainly prepare the way for that proclamation in much the same way that John the Baptist prepared the way for the kerygma of Jesus...Amos crafted poems, Jeremiah wept sermons, Isaiah alternately rebuked and comforted, Ezekiel did street theatre. U2 writes songs and goes on tour, singing them.”

Just a few years ago David Taylor, from Fuller University, gave us a precious film of Eugene and Bono chasing over The Psalms. It is a beautiful piece. Eugene, and his wife Jan, treat Bono like their son. There is mutual admiration and a real sharing of faith and Scripture. They speak about the realism that we need as we deal with our faith and of course the power of words. “We need new words for cussing”, said Eugene. Bono does!

Last Easter in Fitzroy we had a showing of Peterson: Between The Man and The Message, a film by my friend Greg Fromholtz. Greg worked extra hours to raise funds to make this short film to capture Eugene before we would lose him. It is a lovely last testimony. Eugene and Jan speak about death. Jan is looking forward to heaven and would like to walk in with Eugene, hand in hand. Poignant. 

Greg begins the film with words from Peterson’s book, a favourite of Bono’s actually Run With The Horses. They say everything about Eugene Peterson’s life and the life that he was hoping his work would inspire us all:

“In the life of faith each person discovers all the elements of a unique and original adventure…”


Sam Phillips

Maybe music needed Donald Trump! Whatever you say about him, he has given us a year of the most weighty music, content wise, in a long time. Brexit might have helped a little too! World On Sticks is Sam Phillips’ contribution to the social and political commentary of the very uncertain times we are living through.

Phillips has always been a writer of some depth. Interestingly her music took on more prophetic punch after her phase as Leslie Phillips in the Christian Music world. That industry in the 80s and 90s was a little one dimensional content wise. When Phillips spread her artistic wings, was discovered by T-Bone Burnett who produced her and married her she became a songwriter of acute social observation.

Since divorced from Burnett both in a marital and production sense, World Of Sticks has the lighter production feel that made her album Fan Dance such a joy a few records back. Not that she doesn’t still reveal or eccentric Tom Waitsian nature with her percussive rhythms and instrumentation.

I have been buying Sam Phillips records for over thirty years and this might be the one I am enjoying the most. American Landfill Kings shows off her eccentricities best. An environmental apocalypse of a song asking how we got to be living on all our throwaway trash! 


How did we find ourselves

Living on top of the things

That we don't want any more

Screaming while we cover our ears

We can't see ahead

And we won't see behind us


Praying that the true-false truth

Won't find us


Then How Much Is Enough which I think goes to the heart of our sickness:


Promising the good life to hide

What’s really being sold

How much is enough?


Then the prayerful hopefulness of Candles and Stars:


If only  

With candles and stars 

And broken light from dreams like ours 

We will still find our way through 

To love. 


In a great year for albums Phillips has added hers!