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March 2019


Weller Aspects

I remember driving Rich Mullins across a few States in America. We had spent some of our time together listening to rough mixes of the soon to released A Liturgy, A Legacy & a Ragamuffin Band. We loved the rawer sound. The strings had not been added yet. When we left Rich to go our separate ways my last words were, “No strings Rich. No strings.” The final mix had strings! 

I remember as a University student turning up The Jam’s Setting Sons and Sound Affects to loud and loving the new wave thud of a three piece rock band at its edgiest best. 

So here I am 26 years after that car journey, nearly 40 after The Jam rocked my world and I am listening to Paul Weller with strings… and brass! Have I gone soft… or matured in my taste to declare that I love it!

Weller’s most recent studio record True Meanings really caught my ear. I loved its near gentle craft. Songs like Gravity set Weller alongside Bacharach et al. Even better the orchestral parts on that record and all over this live album were arranged by a Northern Irish woman Hannah Peel. 

Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall just as critical success was declared over True Meanings it is understandable that the set list concentrates on the songs from that acoustically shaped record. The rest of the set list stayed away from the hits. 

Yes, it would have been wrong to leave out Have You Ever Had It Blue and You Do Something To Me for this kind of reworking, the string on the latter are particularly exquisite, but The Jam picks are Private Hell, Boy About Town and the b-side, brilliant and all as it was Tales From The Riverbank. The solo Wildwood is just gorgeous in this setting. 

it all works beautifully. It’s another musical chapter in Weller’s constant sonic shifts. I imagine that his next work will be loud and experimental but I could take a longer phase of this style for sure. If Fitzroy ever do a Gospel According To… Paul Weller then you can be sure that May Love Travel With You will be up front and centre. It’s the most spiritual of benedictions to this concert set:


Have grace to see the virtues

Give thanks to them sometimes

And may love travel with you

Forever and all time




Arcade Fire 

"I had a somewhat religious upbringing," he says. "Not strict, but it was there and I’m kind of thankful for that. If you grow up just watching MTV, that’s its own form of religion and it’s not even based on happiness or communal responsibility. I mean, try to construct a worldview out of that."

 It sounds, I say, both from his conversation and his recent songs, like he still misses that faith-based sense of community. "Yes. I guess I do," he says, after some thought. "I’m not practising, I don’t go to church, but what I got from it was a sense of belonging to something bigger. What I really miss is being forced to be in a community with people that aren’t the same as you. Then, you really have to work through the ways that you’re different. I think that’s important and it’s missing in youth culture. I guess some of the songs are a reaction against the tyranny of youth culture, where you only hang around with people who dress like you, think like you and listen to the same music as you. Even though we are seen as the quintessential indie band, I feel very far from that culture a lot of the time."

The above quotes are a fascinating article about Arcade Fire, in The Observer newspaper by Sean O’Hagan. What is it about the Mormonism that has brought faith back onto the artistic palette of good recent rock records; I am thinking of The Killers as well as Arcade Fire? Whatever, you don’t expect journalists to have a conversation with a British band and have them speak about Church communities!

Win Butler’s comments about the benefits of Church community comes in the light of the fact that the band’s album Suburbs is a critique of youth culture. As so many people, even believers, suggest that growing up in Church has been detrimental to their lives, Butler suggests the opposite. His phrase, “What I really miss is being forced to be in a community with people that aren’t the same as you”, is most prophetic. Perhaps the MTV world that has created the homogeneous and spoiled generation he critiques so strongly are so pampered that the give and take of real community is too much for them.

Even Churches have become little communities, with great vocal emphasis on community, that are just a group of refugees who couldn’t take the friction and self sacrifice of building real community so they withdrew into an easier option. It is easy to create community with those who all agree with your style of worship, theological opinion and song playlists. Easy and pretty much useless to any sense of spiritual growth.

The community that Jesus birthed and that we read about at the end of Acts 2 was a menagerie of quirks and freaks and ages and backgrounds. It was a sign of his transformational power that they could be held together. It was a part of their lifetime discipleship course that they should be forced to shape and hone each other in their differences and disagreements.

It is why I love being minister of Fitzroy. Our community is differences right across the pews. Different ages, different backgrounds, different spirituality journeys, different theologies and different opinions about everything. The rubbing together of ages, denominational backgrounds and theological opinions develops both belief and behaviour. If done in a grace centred respect it also prevents mono-theological arrogance and judgementalism. Holding tether such varied and vibrant community tests my own discipleship too!

Church communities where God's grace are is not needed seem pointless and indeed perhaps Godless. They are certainly no advert for God, just another club that could be about golf or yachts! Oh for many communities like the one Butler misses...and oh for mine to be like that one. 


Fitzroy drawing

Tomorrow in Fitzroy (11am) raises a dilemma. How do you preach the most familiar of all parables without the congregation nodding off. The Prodigal Son is a favourite parable of mine but for tomorrow I am looking at it from every possible angle to see what might connect with whoever is gathered tomorrow. It's Mother's Day here in Belfast and though the mother is absent in this family drama, the idea of home is large in my thoughts. Dave Thompson has thrown in a Martyn Joseph song to add another angle. As Saturday speeds into evening I am loving the imaginings still to come and then preaching it tomorrow!




in concert


SATURDAY MAY 11, 2019 @ 7.30pm

donation based concert


Beki Hemingway might not look like she is old enough but she has been making music for three decades, singing as a teenager with Larry Norman, before joining This Train with future Rich Mullins' Ragamuffin Mark Robertson, before marrying guitarist Randy Kerkman and setting out as a solo artist, with Randy riding side saddle on guitar. 

I came across Hemingway listening to the very first Paste Music Sampler CD. Sinsick caught my ear and soul. Beki's voice had a purity but enough quirk to hook me in, and the song had this spirituality in poetry and tune. 

I was delighted to have Beki gig in Derryvolgie Hall when I lived there and was then gutted when she gave up music and took off to six years of normal life in Denver.

How pleased was I when Beki and Randy not only re-discovered their muse but moved to Ireland, first in Wexford and now latterly in Dundalk. With the help of Commitments guitarist Conor Brady they produced the Americana sounding record Whins and Weather, that took us through Beki's struggle with breast cancer. 

The proximity to Belfast has allowed me to have Beki at the last two 4 Corners Festivals and they have also played that last two Belfast Nashville Songwriting Festivals too.

We are delighted to welcome them back to Fitzroy on May 11th. If you love good songs and a great voice then look no further! 


Jack white

In an interview with the Observer Music Magazine Jack White from rock band The White Stripes pointed his finger at the spirit of his age. ““It’s pathetic in America. Everyone thinks they can have whatever they want. They’re really spoiled and gluttonous; they always want more and bigger and better and all that jazz, and the fastest and the newest toy – and it’s not necessary. People in America, especially don’t want anyone to tell them that there’s any sort of rules, or limitations. They don’t want, “You can’t do that,” or “You can only have this”. Everyone wants to eat their dessert first.”

In a sermon in Fitzroy, a few years ago, I opened up the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man which basically damned the Rich Man to hell for his conspicuous consumerism and desire for the dessert first. It is a hard word to a congregation full people who fit the character sketch and CV of the rich man and not one that looks or lives anywhere near Lazarus. It is a story that goes with Jesus comments “blessed are the poor” and “woe to you who are rich.”  We could paraphrase “Woe to those who got their dessert first.”

As Christians we need to be alert to the weaknesses of our conditioning. White’s words are an astute analysis of the soul of our times. We are its victims. It is all around us, sucking us in, moulding us and shaping us. Being the victims does not excuse us. We need to bring to bear on our disposition the challenge of the Gospel. It is not just a marked contrast; it is an antithesis of all that the world would sell us.

Jesus birth rings in a new way to live. Here is the King of all Kings on a bed of straw, poor, vulnerable and dependent, soon fleeing like a refugee to escape the political death squads. God has shown us the selfless sacrificial alternative; an opposite way that sees life lived for what is given away not accumulated. It is a life of precarious bravery not comfortable safety, of giving up his rights for the salvation of others, not demanding or even expecting everything to fall into place. This Jesus way is about abundant blessing but not the blessings expected in a world where we want to eat our dessert first. 

And Jesus whispers still; follow me. It is impossible without the daily taking up the cross and heading off no matter what the cost. The cross is not made up off quality silver and bought in the coolest high street jewellers. WWJD is not something to be worn as a fashionable wrist band. What Would Jesus Do is a moment by moment question that inconveniences our lives and leaves us with the nuisance of having to befriend the unlovely, the stigma labelled outsider and the violent enemy.

The revolution that was Jesus birth became his teaching. The Beatitudes are simply ridiculous in the context of the world we live in. In our world the rich are blessed, the promotion is blessed, the expensive car is blessed, the prestigious post code is blessed; they are the way to get voted into eldership certainly!

The kingdom of God is upside down. The poor are blessed, the meek inherit, the peacemakers get the kingdom of God. It is time that we as the Church of Christ heard the words of Jack White and then examined the lifestyles of those of us who claim to follow the humble, impoverished carpenter who was tortured and rejected and ask whether we reflect the world or are the torch bearers of a new way, living out the words of the one we say we are following.   





Joni 75 2

(on the evening I review the Joni Mitchell Tribute album Joni 75, I pull together, with great care, my favourites of the rest of Joni covers)


from A Tribute To Joni Mitchell



from A Better Man CD single



from Wonder CD single



from Keeper Of  The Flame



from Sky Trails



from No More "I Love Yous" CD Single



from River; The Joni Letters



from The Girl In The Other Room



from A Tribute To Joni Mitchell



from If I Could Give You All My Love CD singe



from Burning Times



from Fumbling Towards Ecstacy



from Love Is A Strange Hotel



from A Tribute To Joni Mitchell



from Twelve Tales Of Christmas



from Solder



from One Night In Willowfield



from Deja Vu


Read my review of JONI 75 here







Joni 75

I love Joni Mitchell and I have shared on Soul Surmise before that I love Tribute albums. I am always posting playlists of covers of artists. Even better is when the album is from a Live Tribute concert! So, Joni 75 is a beautiful thing! I had heard about the gig, then that it would be released as an album and I waited patiently for release. I was not disappointed though for me not every song works. 

Joni Mitchell’s catalogue of work over 50 years is as strong as anyone else in the genre. Of course those 50 years covered a range of sounds. When it comes to songs that can be covered it seems that the earlier ones have always been the most popular. I don’t think that is to do with the quality of the song so much as the intricate arrangements of the later work. 

So with Joni 75. Though Emmylou Harris does Magdalene Laundries from 1994’s Turbulent Indigo, that song was written 27 years after the next youngest song Dreamland from 1977’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. It is no surprise and a delight for me that four of the songs are from 1971’s seminal Blue. My other favourite record Hejira gets two cuts, Amelia and Coyote.

Coyote is of particular intrigue to me. It might be one of the first Mitchell songs I ever heard, her version on The Band’s Last Waltz, and the singer is Dublin’s Glen Hansard. 

Amelia is done by Diana Krall whose previous covers of A Case Of You and Black Crow are particular favourites of mine. I do wish she had done A Case Of You here. I have blogged elsewhere that that might be the best song ever written and Kris Kristofferson, even with the help of Brandi Carlile doesn’t quite eek out its poetry or emotion. 

Noah Jones who worked with Herbie Hancock on his fascinating project River: The Joni Letters sings the same song Court and Spark, James Taylor does River and Woodstock, Rufus Wainwright gives us All I Want and Blue and perhaps the very best vocal of all is Seal's Both Sides Now.

Thrown into the mix of all these Mitchell classics is Graham Nash. Nash does not do a Joni Mitchell song at all but his own Our House which was written in the Laurel Canyon home that Nash shared with Mitchell when they were a couple. It is a beautiful song of domestic bliss and sits perfectly in a concert set list of Joni Mitchell classics both in style and indeed quality.

Songs might actually be as good as the versions of them that other artists do. If that is the case then once again it is clear that Joni Mitchell is one of the all-time greats!

my playlist of my other favourite Joni Mitchell covers here


General fabric



Saturday March 30th 2019 - 10.30am to 2pm

Fitzroy Church, 77 University Street, Belfast BT7 1HL

(use the Queens University car park at the top of Botanic Avenue as the Church car park will be used as a car wash)


In the summer of 2015 my wife, Janice, discovered the Arua fabric market. Arua is a town on the north western edge of Uganda. Our Church, Fitzroy, funded a primary school, Onialeku, on the outskirts of that town. 

I was a little exasperated at the number of pieces of this African fabric that Janice bought. What was she going to do with it? How much will be just left lying around the house? What a waste!

Well, I ended up eating my words. With a sewing machine, and the help of the other crafters in Fitzroy, my daughter Caitlin and Janice made cushions and table runners and all kinds of other products that raised well over £800 for the Onialeku project. Wow! Over the next four years we have watched the obsession with the Arua fabric market reach addictive heights but as Pastor David in Onialeku says, “Good addiction!” Over £4000 has now been raised!

On Saturday (March 30th) between 10.30am and 2pm you can call into Fitzroy and purchase some of the Arua fabric crafted. Since 2015 all kinds of new ideas have been developed and there are a range of fascinating products from teabag holders, to pen holders that attach to your note book, to bags, to sunglasses cases, to children’s travel crayon cases, to dog bandanas. Along with all the old favourites too!

Fabric tea bag

This Saturday is about more than just the African crafts. As a fundraiser day for this year’s Fitzroy trip to Onialeku, there will be a pop up cafe with tea, coffee, soup and wheaten bread. While you sup you can get your car washed in the Church car park. Then peruse the crafts. There will even be a few cakes to buy for Mothers’ Day!

Please come along and socialise with us and enjoy a rummage. All for an amazing cause!

Fabric pen



Brexit! It is almost beyond belief. Like watching Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day without any of the humour. Whether you are a  Brexiteer or a Remainer surely all of us are exasperated by the incompetence, unaccountability and immaturity of our politicians. All of them, it seems to me!

As I see it, we have political parties who think they are engaged in some school debating society event. There are arguments and meetings and deals but they are all about self obsessed ideologies rather than the common good of all of the people. 

Our own Northern Irish representatives, The DUP, have their ideological red line. They do not want a border in the Irish Sea. I understand that that is deeply held but that it should be held up above the best pragmatic exit deal finds them ignoring the common good. 

Sinn Fein have their ideological red lines too. Their stance against sitting in the British Parliament. Again I understand where that comes from in their long held beliefs and determination not to take vows to what they perceive as a foreign country. I have heard them argue that what happens in Westminster has nothing to do with Ireland. However, never has that been more wrong. By not taking their elected seats in Parliament they have let down the people of Ireland, north and south by putting ideology before representing those that Sinn Fein claim to represent on both sides of the Irish border.

I know that political parties need to have principles. I can respect that those principles will be different and that I will disagree with some of them. However, it is when those principles, whatever they are, are given priority over people that truth needs to speak to power. 

Of course DUP and Sinn Fein red lines and principles have cost us our Local Assembly for 800 days. Principles more important than health and education. Negligent and reckless!

The Old Testament prophets are particularly vexed when those in power lose sight of the needs of all of the people, particularly the marginalised. Even religious leaders who seem to have been keeping all the correct principles of religious worship working were lambasted and damned for their losing sight of the common good of the people. The Bible has special emphasis on the widow, the orphan, and the refugee, those likely to be overlooked by the habits of the culture.

So, I beg you all who have influence in Westminster to stop and take a breath. Take a walk outside the hothouse of hot air and white noise. Take time and have a long gaze across the horizon of the people that you represent. All of them. Peer closely into the nooks and crannies. Look in the eye of those often forgotten. Those who voted for you and those who did not. The rich but more importantly the vulnerably poor.

This is a historical constitutional crisis. Be sure that it will be analysed down through history. It is time to ask how you want to be seen. As those who held to the principles of the red lines or those who compromised on principles but made the decisions that led your people, all you people, into peaceful and prosperous times. 


Stocki Preach

My prayer in Fitzroy, the week after the Mosque Massacre Christchurch, in the week of a cyclone in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, just see days after the Hotel Crush in Cookstown.Brexit goes on in chaos too...

The Lectionary reading was remarkably Luke 13: 1-9 where Jesus deals with a violent massacre and a crushing by Siloam Tower. Immediately afterI prayed this the band played Bono and Daniel Lanois's Falling At Your Feet. Beautiful! 


Our God

It has been a wordless week

We have gasped

And sighed

And cried

At what we have lived through

We have been speechless

Trying to describe the distraught

Of Christchurch

Of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi

Of Cookstown

Of Carlingford

Of Cushendall

Of Westminster

Lord, people at worship gunned down

People in their homes washed away

Teenagers going out to a St Patrick’s Day party, not coming home to their parents

Ruth and Nicola lost to their families

And a Parliament in chaos and confusion and crisis

Lord, it is almost too much


So, Creator God

We find inspiration from our Muslim neighbours

And prostate ourselves before you

Falling at your feet

To find our place in your order of things

To be realigned

To be put back in-sync

To your place

Your world

And our place in it.


Lord, Jesus called the Spirit a Comforter

So, may the Spirit break into Christchurch

Southern Africa

Co Tyrone

May your compassion made flesh in those neighbourhoods.


And Lord falling at your feet

We give ourselves

To whatever we can do 

Out there

But more urgently what we can do right here

In our homes

On our streets

In our places of work and leisure and socialising

Lord urgently call us afresh

And energise your presence within us

That we might be particles of your light 

Shining across Belfast and beyond

Lord, into our old broken world

Shine the new healing of your Kingdom.


And Lord, start with me

Give my soul a paradigm shift

That I might see this last week

And place in it.

May that might make everything different

In how I live this week

May we never abuse your grace  

To feed our own self righteousness

But use your grace 

To feed and clothe and comfort the world’s deepest needs.

Lord, I am falling at your feet.