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November 2018


Me abd ma 2

I wrote this the summer after my mother died... a coming to terms with.


I can’t believe the summer is over

Seems like it was yesterday

We took the bus to plane to bus

To take ourselves the long way

Climbing the hills so leisurely

The descent is oh so fast

The proverbial blink of an excited eye 

And all that joy is past.


On the last drive home from summer

Saw a plane coming into land

Too quickly we start unpacking

All the carefully made plans

Where does all the love go

All the tears and all the laughs

Do they live on in our memory

Or come alive out of photographs


This year the rope was slashed

I was out without a tether

I was drifting but not adrift

No one asking about the weather

No last night phone call

No final kiss goodbye

Where does all the love go

When an anchor of love dies.


Astral Weeks

50 years ago Van Morrison’s iconic record Astral Weeks appeared like the rarest of meteorites appearing in a night sky without warning. It is an acoustic, ambient blues and jazz fusion with pain, death, love, romance and transcendental yelping that draws from a legacy of Woody Guthrie, evangelical Christianity and a transvestite called Madame George… among many other things.

Within the eight songs of the record’s genius it is easy to trace the themes that would keep Van Morrison in muse for the rest of his career; childlike visions, his Belfast upbringing, religion and these continual moments of spiritual epiphany even in the middle of dark nights of the soul. As you listen to Astral Weeks you can feel one young man’s pain and as you are pulled into the slipstream and viaducts of his dreams you journey with him towards redemption. 

In the midst of the common and most ordinary Van Morrison captures a vivid vibrant vision of the sacred and holy. Morrison does for the Belfast streets of Cypress Avenue, Fitzroy Avenue and Sandy Row what William Blake did for London two centuries before him. Morrison gives them transcendence, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Almost twenty five years later, in a song called Hyndford Street, Morrison calls it dreaming in God. 

1968 was an antithesis of 1967’s Summer of Love. Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Students and police clashed in cities across the world. The war in Vietnam and protests against it were escalating. There was a horrendous famine in Biafra. Northern Ireland was on the verge of The Troubles.

Morrison himself was going through it. Them, the 60s band that had given him his break, was over. He had moved to New York in a dubious record deal with Bert Berns who then died but not before making Brown Eyed Girl a hit. Berns wife then threatened getting Morrison deported until he fulfilled the 36 songs left on his contract. He recorded mostly nonsense songs! 

In the middle of a world exploding and his career imploding Morrison recorded an utterly beautiful and uniquely soulful album that garnered the social and personal pain around and within him and came out the other end with rebirth and redemption.

There was nothing like Astral Weeks and there has been nothing like it since. Morrison would later sing that he came to give us a sense of wonder, to lift a fiery vision bright. That is what he does here. 

From the same East Belfast memory of childhood geography, that CS Lewis used to artistically conjure The Narnia Chronicles, Morrison created an album that touches on holiness. Not holiness of any religious creed but an otherness of place and sensitivity of humanity. The holiness of its otherness. The holiness of its spiritual serenity.  

Back to Blake:


“See the Lord in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.”


4C Logo 19

“Forgiveness. What does that look like?” 

Those are the words of Fr Brian Lennon at a panel event during 2018’s 4 Corners Festival. A question had come from Alan McBride, sitting in the audience. Alan wanted to know if it was necessary to forgive. Very aware that Alan had lost his wife in the Shankill bomb I was very cautious about demanding forgiveness. It was then that Brian asked what forgiveness looks like.

The words triggered something inside my head. Forgiveness was a word I had used for almost 40 years. It is at the very centre of the Christian faith and yet we were asking what it looked like. Surely that question should have a quick and confident answer. In the context of Northern Ireland forgiveness was complex but I reckoned vital if we were ever going to be able to deal with our past.

I think it was Alan’s question that probably fired the direction of the 2019 Festival. Professor John Brewer has for some years challenged us in the Church to keep words like forgiveness in the public conversation. That is what we will be doing in the 2019 Festival.

We took a lot of time over adding the word Scandalous. I have been using the idea of scandalous grace for some time. Jesus was constantly doing scandalous acts. Whether it was the forgiveness he showed to a woman caught in the act of adultery or having dinner with a tax collector, sharing a drink at a well with a Samaritan woman or telling a Roman Centurion that he had never seen such faith in all if Israel. In Jesus culture these were all scandalous acts and forgiveness is somewhere in the mix.

In Northern Ireland many will see it as scandalous if someone forgives the person who killed their husband or wife or son or daughter. It could easily be seen as a scandal if a paramilitary murderer was forgiven. Some might suggest that that isn’t justice.

Yet, it might also be scandalous if those of us who talk so much about God’s forgiveness are not acting in forgiving ways - if forgiveness is not at the forefront of all that we do.

I was struck recently by a scene in a television documentary. A woman, whose mother had been murdered many years before, was being told how miserable her mother’s murderer was in prison. She was so pleased to hear that. He deserved that. I have sympathy with her thoughts but on the wall in front of her was a big cross with another small cross by its side. The cross is a symbol of forgiveness. Have we concentrated ourselves on God’s forgiveness to us but somehow blocked out and ignored that Jesus asks us to follow him in being forgiving to others the way he is forgiving to us.

I do believe that forgiveness is a key contributor to peace building. I believe that it can contribute to personal peace as well as societal peace. To forgive someone who has caused you deep pain is not for the good of the one you forgive so much as for you who forgives. The bitterness that we hold can damage us even more. Forgiving can let go some of the hurt and indeed control that the perpetrator holds over us.

In Northern Ireland we need to be able to find forgiveness for what our communities have done to one another for hundreds of years. I believe that forgiveness is a resource, maybe the most powerful resource in delivering for us a better future. The Bible has the hope of shalom at the heart of God’s dream for the world. I believe forgiveness between human and human, community and community as well as God and humanity are  intrinsic to that intention of God’s.

So our hope for 2019’s 4 Corners Festival is to look at forgiveness from a whole range of angles. We want to use poetry, song, drama as well as personal story, practical teaching as well as theological wrestling to open up and highlight the pearl of forgiveness. It will be messy and difficult. We will struggle with it, find complications in its outworking. At times it will get scandalous but maybe as we surmise it over the ten days of the Festival, and beyond, we will journey to the very heart of God and towards our own salvation and the transformation of our country. 

Check out our programme here -


Ryman Isbell

A couple of lines into Bradley Cooper singing Maybe It’s Time in the movie A Star Is Born and I was saying “Jason Isbell”. Now Isbell has been treading the boards for the guts of 20 years with first Drive-By Truckers and later his own The 400 Units. However, it was his “hello to sobriety” album Southeastern in 2013 that introduced him to the wider world. Five years and two more albums later and his work is so distinctive that Bradley Cooper can’t hide the Isbell signature sound. 

Time to welcome a live record that can collect Isbell’s best songs from those three records and give them extra bluster with The 400 Units let loose. Of course that changes the songs on Southeastern and Something More Than Free as they didn’t have The 400 Unit on their studio carnations. With Sadler Vaden and Isbell doing their guitar duelling and Mrs Isbell, Amanda Shires, giving some whirling dervish Steve Wickham-esque fiddle, this is a live show of energy and clout.

Recorded over six sold out nights at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Theatre this record doesn’t only highlight the power of the band but also the depth and poignancy of the songs. It is a quick reminder of why we love this guy. Cover Me Up, White Man’s World, Last Of My Kind and White Man’s World. Goodness me. 

In the intoxicating live bluster nothing is lost of Isbell’s nuance of heart and soul. 24 Frames’ spiritual cemtax still asks questions:


You thought God was an architect, now you know

He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow

And everything you built that's all for show

Goes up in flames

In 24 frames




The most beautiful of love songs If We Were Vampires has you reaching for your beloved’s hand:


It's knowing that this can't go on forever

Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone

Maybe we'll get 40 years together

But one day I'll be gone

One day you'll be gone


Live At The Ryman is a wonderful celebration of what Jason Isbell has achieved in these last five years. It’s a good assessment of where he’s at. It makes you grateful for the last three records and excites you about the next.


Fitzroy 2

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we arrive at the last Sunday of the Church year - Christ Is King Sunday. In a world full of borders, back stops, arrogant politicians and a fragile Primer Minister we will be hearing Jesus claims of a Kingdom that is not of this world. What does that look like? How do we live in it?

Our lectionary pericopes are in John 18 and Daniel 7, and those texts give us a rich playlist. I can hear Van Morrison's Ancient of Days and wonder if this is where Bob Dylan came up with Wheels On Fire. Derek Webb's A King and a Kingdom is very apt with its stand against flags and even trust in democracy. In the end we are getting Nick Cave's There Is A Kingdom, the advantage of having a guitar toting Anglican like John Trinder who can marry Lectionary and a Rock Music Catalogue poignantly! Expect guitar driven worship too.

If you are wanting good ethical Christmas gifts then check out our Ethical Christmas Fair before and after the service... from 9.45...

In the evening (7pm) we have Derek Poole back with us, continuing his two part series on Lessons That Northern Ireland Churches Could Learn From Rwanda. The first evening was inspirational and challenging. Derek is gripping and has great insight both into the transformation of Rwanda and the need for it here at home. Even if you missed the first one, don't miss this one!




White Album box

So my Desert Island disc would always be The Beatles or as it is commonly known, The White Album. Oh, it is not my favourite Beatles’ record. That is Abbey Road. It is not the best Beatles’ record. That is Revolver. Yet, The White Album is the one I would want. 

Why? It is the eclectic mix of sounds. If you are on a desert island, on your lonesome, then you need to be able to rock out with songs like Back In The USSR or Helter Skelter. Turn it up loud. There will be other times to be reflective and Blackbird, Julia and Long Long Long can give that meditative introspection. Cry Baby Cry might come into its own and when my predicament causes me to lose sleep then perhaps Good Night will be the lullaby to do the trick. Yer Blues is for a heavily depressive afternoon and for celebration there is always Birthday. Revolution can give inspiration for change! Surely no other album ever made has this kind of sonic sprawl 

The White Album is also a perfect Desert Island Jukebox. This record has almost a history of Twentieth Century music. Honey Pie is all 1920’s music hall, the closing Good Night brings crooner Ringo into a big 50’s film soundtrack, there is a touch of Caribbean ska on Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and country in Don’t Pass Me By. 

Children’s stories that filled Saturday mornings at the Picture Houses in Liverpool are here in Rocky Raccoon and The Continuing Story of Bungalow. 

Just back from time with the Maharishi in India, there are some folk hints in the acoustic finger picking style that seemed to have taken up some jamming time with Donovan in the ashram. 50’s rock n roll is in there with a pastiche of Chuck Berry’s Back in the USA on Back in the USSR. Beach Boy harmonies give that same song an early 60s feel too! So many genres.

Scanning the musical history that influenced them is one thing. The White Album goes further. It is not just the history of music until 1968, it takes us beyond 1968 to the future of music too. 

The embryonic stages of the Beatles’ early solo records is on here. Julia is the very personal introspection that Lennon would follow up in Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. The sweeping sounds of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a big hint at Harrison’s massive triple album All Things Must Pass. Good Night could be on Starr’s Sentimental Journey. the short experimental, and lucky to be on this great record track, Wild Honey and Can You Take Me Back not even credited are templates for some of the do-it-yourself miniatures on McCartney’s eponymous debut.

Then surely Revolution 9 that no one but Lennon thought should be here is the inspiration of samples and loops that will become central  in pop decades later and would heavy metal have got so bit with Led Zeppelin if Helter Skelter hadn’t taken Hendrix and Cream and gave it more bang!

50 years after this album there is a six CD deluxe edition that gives me even more reason to take it to my desert island. 

Giles Martin, son of original Beatles’ prouder George, has almost reinvented those scared sounds. I need to disagree with Paul Weller who has said he doesn’t need to hear this remix because the original was good enough for him. I would suggest that Martin takes one of the best albums ever made and somehow makes it even greater.  

Stereo was of no interest to The Beatles, a new fangled thing that George Martin did a lazy job of instrument separation in the speakers. Son Giles uses the fifty years of studio knowledge in-between to re-centre the sound. 

He did the same job on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, last year. These new mixes give Ringo’s drums a lot more bang and you can hear the ping in every acoustic guitar. There are sounds never before heard and everything is so bright and fresh. It is not going too far to say that you are hearing something new. The verve. The energy. The magic of The Beatles playing together. 

The extra CDs concentrate on that last line. Throughout 4 discs of demos and out-takes we get close to The Beatles than ever before. First the Esher sessions recorded in Harrison’s house at Kinfauns give us access to 27 songs that had mostly been written in India over the previous two months. It is fascinating and satisfying listen. Acoustic versions of Back In The USSR, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Yer Blues and a delicate Julia where the guitar playing goes askew but not the intent in Lennon’s soul

You got to ask too how Not Guilty and Junk didn’t make the record but you’re glad that John’s Child Of Nature waited to flower into Jealous Guy at a later stage.

The other discs throw up ten minutes plus versions of Helter Skelter and Revolution that reveal The Beatles loving a jam. There are embryonic versions of Let It Be, Hey Jude and Lady Madonna and rarities such as (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care and Blue Moon. The comedy of nonsense track Los Paranoias made my daughter question the money her dad handed over for this but I love this Beatlefest so much that I even love the instrumental out-take of Savoy Truffle!

The story has it that this was The Beatles starting to unravel. I do not doubt that the beginnings of the end are growing between these chords and melodies but I think the rumours that they were finished here are highly exaggerated. 

They have just come back from what was almost a sabbatical in India that lasted for almost two months. The communal aspect of that sojourn had not had time to fray just yet. This box proves that it was still fun to be a Beatle in the middle of 1968 and that they were cooking when they played together. You can see why McCartney tried to get them to go out live again. 

On these White Album extras, The Beatles are tight, the harmonies are sweet, the creativity as energy, angst, love and tenderness. It almost makes you want to get a few weeks on a desert island just to take it all in!


4 Stocki Girls

I have been saying for many years that even if I was an atheist I would send my children to Church.

There are so many skills emotional, mental and social, as well as the seemingly obvious spiritual, that I have watched my children gain from growing up in an all age community where we laugh when each other laughs and weep when each other weeps.

I remember not long after arriving at Fitzroy seeing my daughters, around nine and eleven, in conversation with an elder member of the Church. There was natural chat. Where else would my daughters feel so comfortable in the present of people so much older?

I have then watched my daughters gain confidence by being involved in a space they are comfortable in. A daughter standing in front of a mic or the other articulating philosophical questions. One finding her vocational direction as she help out at creche or babysitting the children of the congregation, the other looking ahead to study Development at University because of constant mission trip to Africa.  Their personal statements on their University application forms were richer for all their leadership opportunities.

There is more. My friend Andy used to say that musicians coming out of Churches have a huge advantage. With worship at the centre of the community, there are not only opportunities to play with other musicians but an opportunity to play in public. The same is true in the honing of organisational skills. Those children’s clubs or youth clubs or whatever else. To be thrown in to planning such events can put you ahead of the kids without the Church framework. My friend Mark went to a Student Union meeting about Making Poverty History and ended up the chair because he was the only one with previous leadership skills.

Oh the opportunities that come from growing up in Church.

Today’s Irish Times ran with a study by Harvard University that agrees with me that bringing a child up with religion is a positive thing. They begin with Richard Dawkins famous put down on such a abhorrent idea. In his book The God Delusion he wrote, “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place”.

Not so, says the recent Harvard Study. Studying 5,000 adoelsacnets over eight years they found fascinating results. 

“… those who regularly attend religious services, at least once weekly, are 12 per cent less likely to suffer from depression, 33 per cent less likely to use illegal drugs, 18 per cent more likely to report high levels of happiness and 87 per cent more likely to have high levels of forgiveness compared with those who never attend religious services.”

There is more:

“…those who pray/meditate frequently, at least once a day, are 30 per cent less likely to start having sex at a young age, 40 per cent less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease, 38 per cent more likely to volunteer for community service and 47 per cent more likely to have a strong sense of purpose in life, compared with those who never pray.”

Oh don’t get me wrong, I understand many of the errors and horrific things have happened to people in Church. However, I stand with my own personal thought that even if I wasn’t atheist I would send my children to Church. 

In the right Church, surrounded by a community who get as close to the real Jesus and the good news he brought, I can see way more benefits than negatives. Delighted that Harvard and their scientific research back me up.

Forgive me for gloating but the Church needs all the positives it can get just now! 

Read The Irish Times here



Delta is Mumford & Sons growing up record. Now of course, they have been big boys since Sigh No More dropped, to a success they never dreamed of, a decade ago. For years following that success, they lived in the bubble of the road but for the last three years admit to re-entering the real world for the first time in their working lives. 

Delta is a collection of songs by a few men who have come off the stage to find themselves living in a fallen world. Their new environment is best described in Darkness Visible, their reading of part of Milton’s Paradise Lost though the reading is actually done by Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show.

How good Delta is depends. It depends if you are wanting the kind of sales that the band enjoyed with Sign No More and Babel? It depends on whether you are wanting to jig around to every song. At their Belfast gig Marcus Mumford, himself, said, “Thank you for being patient with the new songs. I know some of you just want us to play Little Lion Man 15 times”.

On the sales it is good that this band are on Island Records the label of all labels who have patience with their artists. Massive sales has never got in the way of development of art at Island. If you are wanting more and more Little Lion Men then you will be disappointed and can I ask you to not be lazy; listen to more than Guiding Light!

Guiding Light was a clever lead off single for all of the above parties. The Little Lion Man fans think the banjo is back. Let’s get a load of that and Island Records can smack a sticker on front saying “Includes Guiding Light” to draw in the Little Lion Man fan club!

Guiding Light is a powerful song, probably the antidote to Darkness Visible but this is no revival of the old sound. The old instrument is back but what they have done with it is worth a good music review in itself. Throughout the record it is used in creative ways never before conjured, the riff on Beloved, jangling in and out of Rose Of Sharon, a strong deliberate guide across Delta as the whole thing heads towards the open sea!

Producer Paul Epworth has broadened the Mumford palette with ideas and little deft touches of beats and electronica. The Wild sounds like something Elbow might conjure with that orchestral build. Darkness Visible has a mid sixties psychedelic sound somewhere between In Search of the Lost Chord Moody Blues and White album Beatles. 

October Skies with delicate autumnal piano and gentle harmonies is gorgeous and Psalmlike spiritual. Surely stadiums across the world will soon be filled with the stunning pop singalong of Forever. These last two songs are as fine a work of songwriting craft that these guys they have produced to date. 

Marcus Mumford’s voice has matured too. It laments and soars. It groand one moment and is finds slants of hope the next. His working with T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens and Taylor Goldsmith on lost Bob Dylan lyrics has not done his creative processes any harm!

I am always intrigued by the theology of Mumford & Sons. When I spoke about the band in American Colleges five years ago I concentrated on the darkness and light of the first two records. That battle still rages on Delta. Those are still the key words. There’s a lot of fear in these songs but a lot of shelter and refuge too.

Little spiritual gems sometimes take years to drop out of a Mumford & Sons' song into my soul but as they have called it an album about “death, divorce, drugs and depression”, to which I might add doubt, then there is a voice in the song Beloved which I might surmise is Marcus’s Grandmother that maybe put this thesis in a couplet:


“She says the Lord has a plan

But admits it's pretty hard to understand”


While we unravel that one, a fascinating, mature and eclectic album by Mumford & Sons will be a very welcome companion indeed. Like faith it is a slow burn into something more fulfilling.


Stocki Love Them Uns

Yesterday morning, something happened during the sermon. It happens a lot but not with the same power as it did yesterday morning. Something broke in. It wasn’t in the notes in front of me. It wasn’t in any of my preparation thoughts. It came out of the blue and it was as fluid in my mind and fluent in my speech as anything I have ever said. It was the word for yesterday. It even came with a little pulpit thump! It is the word that people have spoken to me about since, talked about at home and even while climbing a mountain. For those of us of faith, the Holy Spirit interrupted.

I had nothing to say on Brexit, so the Spirit interrupted and told me I had. A phrase I have been using for some years from the books of James K A Smith broke in. We are not what we believe, we are what we love. The gut has us. The kardia in the chest drives us. As a preacher I need to fill my congregations hearts with the good news of Jesus Gospel much more than their heads. Our heads can be full of grand ideas but if the chest, gut and heart are full of other things, what we believe doesn’t matter. The apostle James suggested it would end up as faith without works - dead!

So… the challenge yesterday morning was for all of us in Fitzroy. What do we love? Yet, I also sensed it was a political comment on what is driving all of our politicians… 


We are not what we believe

We are what we love.


Trump will get four more years

I am sure of it

Convinced by the ordinary man on the street

Who said

I don’t like the way he goes about it

But I know he has made America a better place 

Than it was two years ago

Let me paraphrase

I really don’t like the way he goes about it

But I am better off

Let me explain that

He acts against everything I believe in

But he is giving me what I love.


We are not what we believe

We are what we love


What we love pounds our chest

What we love grabs our gut

What we love drives all our decisions

By-passing our beliefs 

With its sheer force

It pushes and pulls us to ideologies

To red lines

To borders

To flags

To language acts

We can believe a million good thoughts

But if our love is misplaced…


It is why Jesus had a golden rule

That everything else he said was built upon

A command that ties up every other command

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

And with all your soul

And with all your mind

Love your neighbour as yourself

And in case you mis-define neighbour

Love your enemies too.


With that in our gut

With that thumping our chest

Our hearts will overflow 

With humility, peace and justice

Salvation and shalom 


Not just for what I love.


To know someone

Do not ask them what they believe

Discover what they love.


We are not what we believe

We are what we love.


Fitz from across Road

Tomorrow morning (11am) I will be preaching an appropriate text in this week's Brexit apocalypse, looking at Mark 13's "little apocalypse". With the help of Charles Manson's commentary of The Beatles' White Album we will be asking about the fear and the shalom of the end of the world and looking at the end of one way of the world before Advent send in a whole new order. There will be updates about Saphara's work in India... we are delighted to welcome Semeda Steves, Head of Programmes India for Change Alliance...  a wee taster to...

... Tomorrow evening (7pm) when will be a celebrating Saphara's 10th Anniversary. 20 years ago this year Christine Burnett first went to India. Christine has done some amazing work in schools in India, using combinations of State and Catholic schools in N. Ireland. Education is at the heart of every Saphara policy and an integral part of our teams’ time in India. It is the key to empowering young people from disadvantaged communities to escape from poverty. This is a chance to look back, thank God for so many stories of real transformation and look ahead to whatever God might do through Christine in Saphara in the future.