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May 2019

GLADYS GANIEL IN CONVERSATION ABOUT FR GERRY REYNOLDS

GG and G 2

UNITY PILGRIM: THE LIFE OF GERRY REYNOLDS CSsR

 GLADYS GANIEL (Gerry's biographer) IN CONVERSATION

SUNDAY, JUNE 2nd 2019 @ 7pm

FITZROY (77 University Street BT7 1HL)

Gladys Ganiel's book on the late Fr Gerry Reynolds is selling fast. As would be expected from a respected academic, Unity Pilgrim is a thoroughly searched biography. 

Sadly Gladys only got a few interviews with Gerry himself before he passed away. However with access to Fr Gerry's papers and the help of family and colleagues closest to him she has shaped a book that leads you through every phase of his life, making places vivid and people come to life. 

In it all, Gladys eeks out all of Fr Gerry's formative influences, right down to kairos moments of awaking and change.

The journey leads us to Belfast, to the heart of the Troubles and to Fr Gerry doing crazy or courageous things in the name of peace and Church unity.

It is a gripping read, full of wisdom and insight on Church relations and peacemaking.

On Sunday night I will be asking Gladys about Fr Gerry's spirituality, who and what drove him in the direction his ministry took and his relationship with Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Rev Dr Ken Newell, Rev Sam Burch and more.


MAVIS STAPLES - WE GET BY

We Get By

What a late burst of artistic energy the life of Mavis Staples has given us. Only Johnny Cash can claim such a prolific seventh decade. Of Staples 14 solo records over fifty years, 5 have been in the last decade! All of them have been brilliant and crucially relevant to our times.

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has been up until now what Rick Ruben had been to Cash. For We Get By, Staples has shifted to Ben Harper. Quite the risk. Quite the success!

Ben Harper? Well Mr Harper was a conduit for some of my coolest cred. Having discovered him early on in his career, I spread the word and my friend Jimmy Symington tipped off none other than Terri Hooley who on a stage in front of me one evening credited the Reverend Steve Stockman for him discovering Ben Harper.

Any even brief glance at Harper’s CV makes his collaboration with Staples seem obvious. A blues guitarist with interest in Gospel and protest, he has worked with The Blind Boys Of Alabama and even wrote with Staples on Love and Trust on her Livin’ On A High Note record.

Harper writes all the songs on We Get By and he has sussed out perfectly Mavis’s life, struggles and spirituality. 

The opening Change lays out the context of modern America for the African American:

 

Fingers on the trigger around here

Fingers on the trigger around here

Bullets flying, mothers crying

We gotta change around here

Get it straight, be sure that you hear

Things gonna change around here

 

The entire collection, of which I particularly love Stronger, Sometimes and the title track, sings of the resilience that comes from love and faith. Everything is based around that voice and Harper’s tough blues strum, sometimes driving Mavis along, at other times gently weeping; always strong and foundational.

If there is a weakness, perhaps it is the variety of sound and lyric that Tweedy brought but on this one We Get By is all the better for the change. 


WE ARE ONE, BUT WE ARE NOT THE SAME - THOUGHT FOR THE DAY 29.5.19

Bono WP3 Jani

For about 25 years there was a rumour at every big Irish concert. Maybe Bono will turn up! 

No one gave it a thought last Saturday night at Ward Park!. Even when Snow Patrol inexplicably started a cover of U2’s One. I was more concerned that Gary Lightbody didn’t know the words! Then… well the truth is I don’t remember how it happened. I heard a voice. Bono was on the big screen. My daughter Caitlin says “is he really here’’. I looked back to the stage and he was. 

Bono’s appearance shouldn’t distract from a brilliant day of Northern Ireland artists and Snow Patrol’s exhilarating headline performance but it was a moment!

In that moment Bono and Snow Patrol sent out their very own Thought For The Day.

Back in 1990 U2 couldn’t capture the song One. It was only when one of them set one melody above the original melody and they fitted… Bono started singing… “We are one but we are not the same… we get to carry each other”. Eureka!

Originally about Bono friend  separating from his wife One is a song that grew up over the years to mean many things in many places. On Saturday it was an encouragement to hope for peace in our divided place. Bono adding the words of another song… “There is no them, there’s only us” at the end.

I love that image of “ONE… BUT NOT THE SAME”. When Fr Martin Magill and I go about our work in reconciliation we acknowledge that. A Catholic priest and a contrary wee dissenter from Ballymena! We feel genuinely one… best friends… but we hold our differences… gently but dearly. At the same time we get to carry each other… and hopefully carry others as we meet people across Belfast and beyond. 

We feel we are on the heels of Jesus who as a Jew carried Samaritans and Gentiles alike. There was a moment when Jesus healed a Roman centurion’s servant and dared to say in front of the Jews, “Never have I seen such faith in all of Israel.” Oh my. The Jews were planning crucifixion right there! For Jesus he and the Roman were not the same… but they were one… and he got to carry him and his servant… more of that sort of thing in our wee country!


U2 - INVISIBLE (at WARD PARK 3)

Bono and Gary

Invisible is a fascinating song in U2’s body of work. Released for what seemed to be a lead off single for the long anticipated Songs Of Innocence album, something caused it to lose its sparkle. The album got delayed for many months and by the time the album found its way into everyone in the world’s Apple Library it was merely a hidden track.

It did make the set list for the Songs Of Innocence Tour but Invisible is a song that could be forgiven for being miffed about how it has been treated.

Bono has always talked about it as a song about the band’s first skirmishes into gigging in London. In the face of punk rock it may be that the new weird Dublin boys felt invisible. It is also definitely about that punk value of attempting to break down the walls between the band and the audience.

That main mantra though is about so much more than the first gigs in London. “There is no them, there’s only us” is a phrase that could have been stamped across everything that U2 have been about since they started out… 

Their entire work could be described as re-humanising those who tend to be invisible to us. The obvious subjects are the those across the world suffering with AIDS. The download of the Invisible single raised over $3million for AIDS in just a few days. The message is clear. We have dehumanised millions of people across our world. These individuals are are more than we see and more than we know and we need to look again and see their bodies and souls. That lingering anthemic “fade out” nails the prophetic protest, “There is no them... There’s only us..” It is simple, profound and powerful.

Of course Invisible can throw a wider arclight. This could be about the dalits of India, the forgotten refugees of Syria or Sudan or the disappeared of any war. A perfect slogan for a man who runs a campaign he called ONE.

On its release I blogged about how the “There is no them... there’s only us” echoed true to me in the divisions of my own city of Belfast. The two historical sides of our conflict can live in places geographically and politically where we stereotype “the other” or “them”. We need to realise that the other is more than we see and know. The only way out of division is to commit to the common good. When we see the city as about us, not about us and them, then everything can begin to change.

With Snow Patrol at Ward Park 3, Bono used it for this very Northern Irish purpose. Snow Patrol have always attempted to be a unifying force in their home land - “Ireland at the World Cup, either north or south”. Bono just made that message more obvious at the end of One in Ward Park. After the crescendo of the crowd’s delight at the end of the song, Bono gave it a moment and then before he left the stage reprised it acapella, reminding us again…

“There is no them, there’s only us”


MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY, FIELDS OF LIFE & MANCHESTER CITY

Hygiene Day Ednar

Today, across the world, is Menstrual Hygiene Day. It will no doubt pass many of us by but it shouldn't. For my friends working in schools with Fields of Life in East Africa this is a major day. 

Something that we in the west find hard to talk about openly is a world justice issue for millions. This summer, like the last two summers, Fitzroy’s Team to Onialeku Primary School will teach a programme called I am Girl which will educate the girls and indeed boys in the school about this very natural process, helping them with their hygiene thus enabling them to not miss school once a month, further aiding their education to take their place in the building of their nation.

Indeed, we believe so much that the girls' education should not be hampered by the natural process of menstruation that we funded a separate washroom for girls so that they could come to school confident that their hygiene could be taken care of.

As the Menstrual Hygiene Day website points out, “More than half of girls lose confidence during puberty with the onset of menstruation marking the lowest point in confidence. One of the key reasons is a lack of information. Education about menstruation changes fear to confidence.”

Poverty is balanced against women. Days like today’s Menstrual Hygiene Day are a contribution to a fairer and more just world. So my Fields Of Life colleagues in Kampala, we stand with you. We will come in a few weeks and work alongside you.

Forgive me for sounding as if this is just an African or Asian issue. It is an issue very much alive closer to home. There is stigma and what is called 'period poverty' right here in the UK and Ireland.

Indeed, three female footballers started the On The Ball Campaign. It is estimated that one in ten girls and young women in the UK are unable to access sanitary products. 

My team Manchester City, often vilified in the media, were one of the first clubs to respond. On The Ball said: "We are thrilled to have Manchester City backing the On The Ball campaign by providing free period products. The Premier League is known worldwide so to have teams like Man City on board with the campaign is excellent and shows that football can be forward-thinking and an effective platform for change."

So, on Menstrual Hygiene Day, let's raise the awareness. Let's help however we can. Onialeku Primary School in Arua, Uganda, we will be showering you with sanitary pads very soon!


STOCKI ON THE RADIO

Stocki BBC

As we move into June I will be having a little more radio air time than is probably fair or good for the nation! Having been ill during the long winter we are making up for my absences now! Maybe Ryan McMullan could paraphrase his song Bowie On The Radio!!!

If you get up at unearthly hours and have any interest then here are the dates:

GOOD MORNING ULSTER (RADIO ULSTER)

Wednesdays 29th May and then 5th, 12th and 19th June at around 6.55am and then again at 7.55am

VANESSA FELTZ (BBC Radio 2)

Fridays 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th June at around 6.40 -6.45am


SHIFT THE FOCUS

Stocki cariature

LORD SHIFT OUR FOCUS

From your own efforts to gather more

To the birds who have enough

From your own attempts to look good

To the roses in their springtime magnificence

 

LORD SHIFT OUR FOCUS

From the feeble efforts to change who we are

To opening up to what God’s grace longs to make us

From waiting until we are good enough for God

To having his strength made perfect in our weakness

 

LORD SHIFT OUR FOCUS

From the selfishness of being stuck in a moment

To the usefulness of living for the eternal

From the slavery of the things that we see

To the freedom of living in the Spirit unseen

 

LORD SHIFT OUR FOCUS

From the love we are craving to get

To the mercy we are zealous to give

From a holiness that feeds our self righteousness

To a Godliness that feeds the world

LORD SHIFT OUR FOCUS.

 

MATTHEW 6: 30-34

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

 


SNOW PATROL - WARD PARK 3 - BANGOR, CO. DOWN - MAY 25, 2019

Bono and Gary

The look on Gary Lightbody’s face from the moment Snow Patrol walked on stage. It was a like a kid in a toy shop, open mouthed, wide eyed, disbelieving what was in front of him and how he seemed to have the right to play with all of the toys.

Ward Park 3, as it was called, was the third such venture of Snow Patrol, following similar undertakings in 2007 and 2010. 35,000 people. The biggest concert in Northern Irish history. This third concert started at 2 o’clock and the undercard of Northern Ireland’s finest acts filled a day. To such an extent actually that Bangor had to accommodate Ryan McMullan and David C Clements the night before.

As I watched Lightbody’s beaming smile, total satisfaction and hand thumping his heart in an act of utter love I couldn’t help thinking that it was a like a wee boy playing in the park, like Gary did in this park, imagining that he was in a band and that he could put up a concert… over there. Through their ninety minute set Lightbody played the fan as much as he did the star.

In those boyhood dreams he might have thought that maybe he could even get Bono to join his band on stage! Between 1985 and 1995, maybe beyond, the hope at every gig in Ireland was that Bono might come on stage for a song. Ward Park 3 had absolutely no such anticipation. Not even when Snow Patrol inexplicably decided to cover One as a tribute to bands from the Republic Of Ireland. 

I was a little worried about Gary’s stumble through the first verse when suddenly Bono’s voice… then I can see him larger than legend on the big screen in front of me. “Is he really here,” my daughter Caitlin asked and I wondered was it a recording, then there he was. Gary’s mouth is drooling, eyes even wider. It’s a love fest, Bono cheering on his younger northern brothers and ending with U2’s political knocking down of walls, “there is no them, there’s only us”… As he leaves, Lightbody utters, “Oh my goodness,” and the band quickly riff into Chasing Cars, the only thing that can follow that!

That Bono’s appearance was immediately all over social media and today’s tabloid headline should not distract from the success of Ward Park 3.

Nine hours were four too many for me but seeing only Foy Vance, Two Door Cinema Club and Snow Patrol was utterly wonderful. Vance’s song fitted perfectly. He even has one called Bangor Town for goodness sake. Upbeat Feelgood is a perfect soundtrack for such a day and then a lovely touch as he dedicates Guiding Light to the Archer family, Iain and Paul well known brothers in this music community, who lost their mother just a couple of weeks before. Iain and his wife Miriam, along with Ryan McMullan join Vance on backing vocals! 

Two Door Cinema Club with young Trimble all tight cut hair, mustard polo neck and green blue suit, admit that they were teenagers for the first Ward Park gig and couldn't have dreamed... Could Bangor have dreamed of having two such world recognised bands at once. The younger pretenders gave us the County Down version of Arcade Fire with American accents in their chat. The potential is good but they are not stadium friendly yet and miss that boy next door whimsy of Mr. Lightbody.

Whoever else was on the bill, the vast majority of the crowd were here for our hosts and when they arrive to the strains of Chocolate Lightbody’s arms are in the air and his face is filling the big screens with utter glee! 

Boom, straight into Take Back The City and the screens are jerking with images of Northern Ireland, places and people Morrison, Best, McIlroy and most poignant and contemporary Lyra McKee. A last photo of Hume and Trimble with Bono holding up their hands at the Yes Campaign Rally in 1998 is maybe Snow Patrol’s most political statement, it’s what rock can do and maybe a hint at Bono’s appearance later on. In the rest of the set, new songs sit comfortably beside the old and Run as always is best of all. 

With Connolly throwing shapes, pounding the riffs, Quinn and Wilson thumping the beat and McDaid adding all kinds of touches of sophistication, Lightbody leads the band and orchestrates the crowd. He has a dose of the cold and his voice is not at its strongest. He uses the excuse to get the crowd singing even more than usual, the call and response of Shut Your Eyes most Ward Park anthemic!

After Bono has left the stage and the planets have shimmied back into place, the encore is most potent of all. Just McDaid and Lightbody in the now familiar If This Is All The Love You Ever Get? Mellow, emotional, spiritual: 

 

What if it hurts like hell

Then it'll hurt like hell

Come on over, come on over here

I'm in the ruins too

I know the wreckage so well

Come on over, come on over here

 

Communally this is like a Communion liturgy. Utterly beautiful. 

With the closing Just Say Yes everyone is deeply satisfied. I still think a wee dedication to our politicians in just a last throw away depth charge wouldn’t have gone amiss but we’ve had the political tonight. 

Ward Park 3 was a celebration of who we are, with our band, and our boy. Even applauded by His Bononess himself. We are all walking home looking forward to 4!


TOMORROW IN FITZROY - 26.5.19

Fitzroy front

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be continuing with the Lectionary in Jesus farewell discourses with his disciples in John. Jesus speaks a lot abut the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Who is that and what does the Paraclete do? How much is the continued wrk down to the Spirit and how much is it down to the disciples. I will suggest that a good bit of the answer is that pop tune of exegesis Stand By Me that will be performed in the middle of a vibrant array of worship. 

In the evening (7am) we are delighted to welcome the Corrymeela Community for an event that will see Pádraig Ó Tuama interview Episcopalian priest, theologian and author Barbara Brown Taylor. In 2014 TIME magazine named her as one of its 100 most influential people in the world. Her best–selling guides to the spiritual life include An Altar on the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark. Her new book is Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others (Canterbury Press 2019). 


KIERAN GOSS AND ANNIE KINSELLA - OH, THE STARLINGS

Goss Starlings

Janice and I were getting into a lift in a Belfast hotel when we turned to see Kieran Goss and a woman about to join us. In the few floors together they were warm, friendly and full of personality. It was a lovely encounter.

The last Kieran Goss album I had bought was Blue Sky Sunrise and so on getting home I checked out any new releases. Well, who would have believed it. Kieran had just released a new record, a collaboration with his wife, Annie Kinsella, the woman in the lift. Sorry Annie, I didn't realise!

I started listening to Oh, The Starlings and was immediately drawn in.  

Surprising to me, the woman in the lift, was doing the vocal heavy lifting with Kieran playing a more supporting role on most tracks. Annie Kinsella is good. A pure voice, evocative, with an Irish tinge. The west of Ireland betrays her on WB Yeats' The Song Of Wandering Aengus and she could even be a gentle Mary Coughlan on Into Your Arms.

The songs. What struck me, as I glanced across the credits, was the strength of songwriting power around Newry, County Down. Brendan Murphy, from the 4 of Us, is a co write on 4 of the songs and Colum Sands, from just down the road in Rostrevor, features too, on maybe the highlight track for me Michael's Orchard

Not that I could describe any of these songs as fillers. This is the strongest of collections. The yearning love song Hymn To Love blends in the spiritual like Van Morrison's Have I Told You Lately, Hollywood Boulevard, a long way from Sugar Island, is insightful social comment and Rodney Crowell's Jewel Of The South is poetically at the top of the class. All said, Goss and Kinsella's title track is breathtaking in the sweetness of its simplicity.

In the end the record was exactly like those few moments in the hotel lift. Here were eleven songs that were warm, friendly and full of personality; a lovely encounter. Eleven finely honed and arranged songs, with the sparsest of accompaniment and all the more beautiful for that!

(side note: I also casually bumped into Brendan Murphy on a Dublin London flight the very week in March 1993 that She Hits Me was in the Uk Top 40. We travelled into London on the Underground and I got a lovely guest list for their show that night at the Subterranean!)