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August 2019


Fitzroy Side

For the first time in ten years Fitzroy has our Sunday evening programme sorted for the entire year. Though we say it ourselves, it is quite the programme.  We are hoping eventually to have it in printed programme form but let me give you a quick overview.

Our How To Read The Bible Series was a popular hit last year. In Northern Ireland we have been very good at reading the Bible but very bad at how we have been reading it. We ignore context and take out lonely verses to pontificate how “Biblical” we are. This series has taken us back into he original context of each book, given us an overview of its meaning and where it fits in to the overall salvation story of the Scriptures.

We intend to do the entire Bible in 3 years and so need to cram the rest of the Old Testament in this year. We are delighted to have some Fitzroy folk who have studied different books in depth but we add to their insight some guest speakers - Dr. Mark Braverman, Tony Davidson, Mark Gray and Fr Ciarán O Callaghan - and our delighted to Dr Cindy Bennet and Dr James McKeown return.

From this Biblical foundation Fitzroy has a reputation for thoughtful faith. We believe Abraham Kuyper’s theology that there is not one inch of the entire Universe that Jesus doesn’t claim to be Lord over. 

So, we are excited to welcome Drs David Livingstone and Stephen Williams for a short series called Global Challenges. They will look at Scientism, Artificial Intelligence, Bioethics and the Environment.

Chris Fry will also do two evenings on psychotherapy and faith.

Fitzroy is also renowned for its engagement with the arts. We are also planning The Gospel According To… Joni Mitchell with live performances and Andrew Cunning guesting in thoughts. Then we are spending another evening looking at The Gospel According To… Female Pop Stars with our younger vocal talent performing the songs of Katy Perry, Jesse J, Lady Gaga, Lauren Daigle and more… 

There will also be Worship nights, Passion, led by our younger members. Vibrant worship and relevant teaching.

There is more but that is enough to give a flavour. With this space for more information about dates etc…


Stocki smiling in pulpit

Coming back from the summer vacation. For me that is the crucial restart. In my mind, the Church year runs from September to June. Fitzroy is a quiet place in the summer. I have led a mission team to Uganda and then taken some time for family.

That family time is an interesting few weeks. I took a decision in my first summer at Fitzroy that I would try to switch off completely. I would not read theology. I wouldn’t allow my mind to drift towards planning. 

In my work I live in a Manse. It is a house that belongs to the Church. For me, although I love it, it is a workplace. I find it hard to relax. I might be watching a film with Janice but I am also likely to be answering emails, chatting on social media and jotting down notes for sermons or meetings or whatever.

Janice notices the difference when I am away. I relax. To make the most of that I need to be religious about not thinking work.

Readers of Soul Surmise will be aware that I call this a sorbet. It is like a cleanser of the soul before the next thing. Those walks on the beach are vital to empty the clutter that clogged up my mind before the break. 

There are moments when I have to discipline myself to not follow up a good idea that blows across my inspiration. I need to park it quickly and move on. Maybe note it down and then get back to it when the time is right.

Then the time comes. That night that I know is my last before my mind races back from vacation to vocation. 

I often describe the new Church year as a snowball. On that first day it starts rolling. Soon it feels like it is thundering down a slope, picking up snow as it goes. In about a months time it is impossible to change its direction. By Christmas you are hanging on to it as hard as you can.

So, direct the beginning well. In November I will be celebrating 10 years in Fitzroy. The congregation is pretty much on a strong course. Yet, I will be using the fresh clarity of mind to look across our worship, spiritual discipleship, pastoral care and mission and see where new impetus is needed.

I always fear settling for momentum. I dread the idea of coasting. Every new year needs a new impetus of the Holy Spirit to drive us forward.

Two places are giving me impetus as I start back. The thoughts and books of Rev Sam Wells has been making sense in my soul for a wee while. His emphasis on “being with” people instead of being distracted by how to “fix” them has struck a chord. 

So my word this year will be Emmanuel, that name for Jesus that gives our model - “God with us”. How can we be Emmanuel in the Church family, in the neighbourhood, across a divided Belfast and on to Uganda, India, Lebanon, London and other places we have a footprint? That’s the prayerful question.

Then, as I made my first steps back, my colleague Paul Bowman informed me of a new record by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbours. I went straight to it and just a few hours into the new Church year Holcombe is singing in his Grandpa’s voice:


Take a few chances

A few worthy romances

Go swimming in the ocean on New Year's Day

Don't listen to the critics

Stand up and bear witness

Go slay all the dragons that stand in your way


Now, line two is long sorted and line three is dismissed as I don’t swim! The rest. It’s like the taut muscle to the peddle for brand new impetus. Let’s slay a few dragons. I’m back!





As a fan of 70s songwriters like Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor I should be a fan of Tom Odell... and I sort of am... but I do prefer his covers and acoustic versions.


PIANO MAN (Billy Joel cover)

(from Jubilee Road Deluxe Edition)



(from Dermot O'Leary Presents The Saturday Session 2015)



(from the single)


TINY DANCER (Elton John cover)

(from BBC Radio 2; The Piano Room 2019)



(from Grow Old With Me EP)


REAL LOVE (Beatles' cover)

(from the single)



(from The Saturday Sessions From The Dermot O'Leary Show)


TRUE COLOURS (Cyndi Lauper cover)

(from the single)


DANCING IN THE DARK (Bruce Springsteen cover)

(from BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the 80s Vol 2)


HOLD ME (acoustic)

(from The Artist Lounge)


MAGNETISED (acoustic)

(from the single)


I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE (Taylor Swift cover)

(from BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge 2013)


ROAR (Katy Perry cover)

(from BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge 2014)



(from Moominvalley Soundtrack)



(from Grow Old With Me EP)


THE SOUND (1975's cover)

(from BBC Live Lounge 2016)



(from The Artist's Lounge)



(from Heartstrings)


SILHOUETTE (piano version)

(from Wrong Crowd (East 1st Street Piano Tapes)



(from Artist's Lounge)


HONKY TONK WOMAN (Rolling Stones cover)

(from iTunes Festival: London 2013 -EP)



(from Spending All My Christmas With You EP)






Jani and Jed Beach

(Let me start this blog by asking you to read on in this blog even when you are at a point when you think that Stockman has become a tree hugging sentimentalist; there is substance at the end; I think!)

For over twenty years Janice and I have owned a house in Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland. 

I hated Ballycastle as a kid, preferring the louder, brighter, busier main north coast town of Portrush. There was a lack of amusements in Ballycastle and I never understood my friend Sammy Mawhinney speaking of the spiritual refreshing of a walk across Ballycastle beach. 

For me back then beaches were for Beach Missions and running on and Portrush and Portstewart were great running beaches; substantial sand and no stones! You grow up though and look for different things. I often think of Sammy in my deep souled times with God on what is now my favourite beach!

Ballycastle beach is framed with its lovely little town which lies snuggled in around a hill, some of it sheltered below and a few houses sitting on top of the cliff. 

In the other direction is the majestic jut and

strut of the Fair Head and Scotland beyond. Rathlin island runs parallel with the beach, a few miles out from shore, and on the other side is a golf course sitting high and climbing further up there is another headland. The green fairways roll down to the blue sea with that little golden strip of sand, yes and a few stones, in between. 

There are longer, wider, sandier beaches on this coast but none has the stimulation of this scenery. There are so many places for the sun to change the colours or the moon to dance across. On a summer evening with a little blue sky and sunshine it is my favourite place on earth.

When we are in Ballycastle we walk this beach almost every evening. On almost all of them I feel that am having Garden of Eden moments. When I stop for a deep breath and allow myself to take in what is happening around me I often have a sense that in a very ordinary evening walk something extraordinary and redemptive is going on around me. 

I look across at Janice and know that for her this is the best place of all too. Jasmine or Caitlin or both might join us. Jed our dog is always there. Indeed, some nights when the weather is not the best he is the one who brings us out. He loves chasing his ball and the taking a wee prance into the sea or have a swim in the mouth of the Bonamargy river. 

I love the sense of refreshing as the waves race up the beach and then retreat, with the evening sun’s light making beautiful colours, off hues of blue and brown. 

Almost every time I am on that beach I feel like I am at one with it all. In love with life. I thank God that such moments are recurring.

(Now I told you to carry one when you got to this warm feely weely tree hugging stage, so stick with me.)

A number of years ago I was very influenced by the writings of Scot McKnight. I loved The Blue Parakeet, a

new way to read the Bible. It had made a lot of sense to me. McKnight encourages us to read the Bible as story and that story is of a oneness broken in the first three chapters of Genesis, made one again in Christ with ultimate unity ahead of us at the culmination of the Kingdom coming in its entirety. We should read the Bible in that story. That oneness of Eden, God and humanity, man and woman, humans and the animal kingdom, and indeed the earth, was an image I liked. 

Dr Muthurai Swamy in his book Reconciliation: The Archbishop of Canturbury’s Lent Book 2019 take a similar stance. The idea of Christ’s mission to be one of restoring that oneness gave me a deep desire, in my ministry in Fitzroy, the 4 Corners Festival and the Cloanrd Fitzroy Fellowship, to be about bringing that reconciliation of man and God, man and woman, human and the creation and human and human out of our localised conflict.  

So in those moments on the edge of the Seas of Moyle  I believe I catch a glimpse of the Kingdom’s oneness. Man and woman, one in marriage, with daughter and animal and earth. They are moments when I realise that this is why I get so much physical and spiritual refreshment on this every vacation. 

It is good to read the Bible’s vision for unity, good to have a theology of it, good to preach and hear sermons on it and good to pray for it but when you are living for just a moment in the tangible reality of that redemption that Christ brought then that is a spiritual place so much more potent than words or ideas. On my beach is in the truest sense of the word a God given, Christ earned blessing. More of them I say!



I would like to be a Florence & The Machine fan but her work is a little overpowering for me but when she does radio sessions, acoustic versions and covers the I can listen... 



(from BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge)


NOT FADE AWAY (Buddy Holly cover)

(from Rave On Buddy Holly)



(from Lungs 10th Anniversary Edition)



(from BBC Radio 2: The Piano Room 2019)



(from Dermot O'Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions 2016)


TINY DANCER (Elton John cover)

(from Revamp: The Songs oF Elton John & Bernie Taupin)


STAND BY ME (Ben E King cover)

(from Songs From Final Fantasy XV single)


YOU'VE GOT THE LOVE (Little Noise Sessions)

(from Dog Days Are Over EP)



(from the single)


HALO (Beyonce cover)

(from The Best Of Radio 1's Live Lounge)


PATRICIA (acoustic)

(from the single)



(from Snow White and The Huntsman Soundtrack)


JACKSON (feat. Josh Home)  (Johnny Cash cover)

(from MTV Presents Unplugged: Florence and The Machine)


MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME (from The Hootenany 2009 - with JOOLS HOLLAND

(from The Golden Age Of Song - Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra)



(from the single)



From I Love You All The Time (Play It Forward Campaign)



(from Rabbit Heart; Raise It Up EP)


TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS (Otis Redding cover)

(from MTV Presents Unplugged: Florence and The Machine)


DRUMMING SONG (acoustic)

from Drumming Song EP)



(from Lungs 10th Anniversary Edition)





A few years ago I stumbled across a book called Beatlebone. Those who know my Beatle fandom will not be surprised that it caught my attention. I picked it up, bought it and truthfully enjoyed the read. It was a little whacky for sure. 

John Lennon had bought a island off Mayo in 1978, about a decade after he actually had, and was wanting some Scream therapy, about 8 years after he actually had. It was a book that was at the one moment insightful on love and life and at the next quite crude. 

I enjoyed it but didn’t expect the writer Kevin Barry to be taken too seriously. It turns out he has been taken very seriously and one of the critically acclaimed novels of the year is Barry’s Night Boat To Tangier. Beatlebone had given me a soft spot for Barry so I needed no more convincing.

In many respects the two novels are similar. First things first. Barry is a lyrical writer. He is all about weather and skies and rivers and seas and the colours and moods that they conjure. He attempts usually successfully to conjure words that are almost poetry.

Into this poetic prose he has a trait for the profane and the profound, sometimes in the very same paragraph. I need to warn you that there is a lot of violence and sex in Night Boat To Tangier and the sex references are uncouth most of the time.

The drama is built around two Irish rascals Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond. The book starts with them in the port of Algeciras in Spain just sitting, chatting. When I say just chatting, it is page after page of Irish banter, hilarious much of the time. You will laugh out loud. Barry has a talent for the conversational. 

From this seemingly harmless and almost endearing beginning Barry throws us into a world of  sex and drugs and murder. There is an intensity to the story. Fear and love flow together as avarice overtakes any sense in the life choices of our main protagonists. 

Night Boat To Tangier is a book about choices and regret, every day love and the terror of drug trafficking. It is about the domino effect of one of life’s decisions knocking down every other domino in the collapse of marriage, family, friendship, the heart, the soul and the mind. It’s like a long tense journey towards the desperate need of repentance and grace and somewhere in there, if you listen to Barry’s literary wonder closely enough, you might find your own life. I did!


Bono Slane

Tears started running down my face. U2 tugged my emotions. I was in a lecture theatre at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They had a screen that filled the entire wall of the theatre. The sound was great. I was showing U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday from the U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle film. 

The obvious reason for the tears was that this was filmed in Ireland. I had only been away from home for a few days but there is nothing like seeing home in a faraway place to feel that yearning. 

Bono was playing all the moves. Sunday Bloody Sunday is, of course, all about Belfast and our Troubles. In 2001 when they played Slane Castle we had had three years since the Good Friday Agreement but politicians were still in talks as to whether they could make our peace deal work. 

Bono use the concert to encourage the “brave men” to compromise for peace. He then literally turned the song into a prayer. Bono walks out across the Elipse stage into the middle of this Irish audience and chants:

“Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Make this song into a prayer
Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Cos we’re not going back there”

On that big Calvin College screen, this was epic. This is about home. This prayerful hope sung across a vast crowd. The screams of “No more!” Wow!

Then, as if that wasn’t enough Bono turns the thoughts of this Irish crowd to the events of August 15th 1998. Just three years earlier the Real IRA, opposed to the IRA ceasefire, left a bomb in the centre of the market town of Omagh, on a Saturday afternoon. When it exploded 29 people lost their lives. The island went into shock and grief.

Slane Castle was U2’s first gig after Omagh. As Sunday Bloody Sunday ends Bono starts to name every victim, one at a time. With the band pumping out the beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday the emotion is palpable. Bono’s voice cracks.

Then with Bono sitting down the band move into a stripped back Wake Up Dead Man. Oh my. This is the most perfect location that that song ever had. Right there. After Sunday Bloody Sunday. After the names of the Omagh victims. The grief, the anger, the confusion, the grapple for faith. It has the catharsis of the blues, the protest of folk and the power of stadium rock. Tears… 

This wasn’t actually U2’s first public reference to Omagh. On November 20, 1998 RTE’s Late Late Show broadcast an Omagh Tribute Special that also included The Corrs, Bob Geldof and President Mary McAleese. 

U2 sang two songs on that show. North and South of the River, written along with Irish folk legend Christy Moore, came cross as almost a grown up Sunday Bloody Sunday. 

In this co-write there is an awareness that religion has led minds astray, and there is yearning for repentance, reconciliation and mutual understanding without any need for surrender, a reference to the clarion call of Ulster Protestants: “No Surrender!” The lines that became most powerful and poignant as U2 performed the song for the TV special were those that suggested the loneliness of hurting your own. There are also fragments of hope in the midst of the evil that love is not lost and has its place in the future.

The band also played All I Want Is You which, in this context, metamorphosed from a yearning for love, in a romantic sense, to a lament for those who lost loved ones in the bombing. It was again powerfully emotional.

On the album that the band were actually promoting at that 2001 Slane Castle concert, All That You Can't Leave Behind had already started reading out the victim's names on a song that wrestles with God the Christmas after Omagh about the angel's song about Peace On Earth:

They're reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won't get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Brenda
Their lives are bigger than any big idea

Today, 21 years on and I will make a little playlist of these 4 songs, as I remember those lost in that horrific afternoon and indeed everyone who lost lives or limbs, or their sight, or mental health or whatever else as a result of our terrible Troubles.


Omagh Bomb

21 years ago today my country was in shock as news of the Omagh bomb broke.  It was a Saturday afternoon when the Real IRA, who opposed the IRA ceasefire, set off a bomb in Omagh town centre. Everyone thought of who they knew that might be caught up in it. In the end 29 were callously murdered.

It was my turn to do a Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster six days later. This was my prayer as I reflected on the week that we had grieved through.


Lord, we come to the end of another week
Except it hasn't been just another week
It has been the worst week of our lives
And even worse for some
Lord help us to be honest, vulnerable and somehow hopeful in the reflection of our feelings

Lord we have been shocked
Shocked by how one tiny second can tear our lives apart
Shocked by how far humanity can fall
Shocked by how callous and painful mankind's actions can stoop

Lord, we are grieving
Grieving for the loss of lives with so much love and energy still to give
Grieving for the man and woman and child who we will never be able to hold again
Grieving for our history that is as sad and twisted as this

Lord we are confused
Confused at why this should happen
Confused about how this should happen to the innocent
Confused about where you and faith enter into these events

Lord we have been angry
Angry at why we allowed our family and friends to go shopping
Angry at how evil people could rip our world asunder
Angry that you allowed it to happen

Lord we are seeking
Seeking some kind of feeble consolation in the midst of our deluge of tears
Seeking some kind of hope that good might come from this evil
Seeking your Spirit whom Jesus called a Comforter to whisper into our maddening silence

Lord we are squinting for faith
Faith that the majority might have some kind of a say in the future
Faith that love will end our hate, good will end our evil and grace will touch our broken hearts
Faith in a God who is as angry as we are and who is reaching out his hand to us.

Lord we are remembering
Remembering those who today can no longer be shocked, grieve, be angry, be confused, seek or squint for faith
Remembering that you watched as your son covered in blood, died at the futile whim of injustice
Remembering that that very death is the only thing that we can grope in the dark for in a week like this.

Lord we have planted our loved ones deep in the bloody earth of Ireland this week
We have watered them with our tears
Lord may you allow them to be seeds of a love that will grow into our peace.

Lord remember us. 



So the results are out.

If your A Level results are good then a hearty congratulations. Good grades at A level are an amazing achievement and you deserve the accolades of family and teachers. It has been two years hard graft, in school and out of school. Many of you will have sacrificed some teenage things to put in the extra work. Enjoy the day. Milk the parental favour!

It might also be good to have a thought for those who didn't achieve what they wanted. Those, around you, who are down today. The pressure might not be so much the grades or that they didn't get the University choice they wanted. Their depression might be that they cannot jump up and down, get on the front pages of newspapers or put up happy emojis on social media. The sense of failure, when you are in a sea of successful peers, is perhaps the hardest part.

So a sensitivity might be needed in the celebrations too! Judge those social media posts with a caring perspective.

For those who think they've failed. Erase that F word from your minds and maybe, more particularly, your souls. School exams are not the beginning or the end of your humanity. Simply because I cannot run the 10 miles that I did a few years ago says nothing about my humanity. It does not declare me a failure. Not getting an A Star, or five, in your A levels says nothing about the preciousness and genius at the heart of your humanity.

If you haven't achieved what you expected or what you needed then think of it as a diversion. In July we were supposed to have a short stop over in Madrid before flying on to Addis Ababa. Storms caused a diversion to Barcelona and a long wait to refuel before heading back to Madrid! Seven more hours on that plane! It wasn't the plan. We could do nothing about it. Yet, eventually we got our next flight rescheduled and our lives only took a minor blip.

If your first or even last choice of University doesn't work out because of these results, it is only a diversion. Even if the examiners get it wrong, you have a contribution to make. You have a gift deep within. You'll find your place. Take this as a time for reflection. A time to reassess. You might have to confess that you need to go back and work harder at those exams. Or you might find another way to your destination from here. There is no rush. This is not the end of any world, just a crossroads to what is next.

You are made in the image of God. You are a wondrous creation. Jesus came to reclaim you into the family of God. Heir of the Father, co-heir with the Son is how Paul put it. God has given you gifts and invites you into his work of justice and peace and good news.

My friend Justin Zoradi put it like this in his book Made For These Times:

“I envision the work of the Lord as gigantic heavenly wheels rotating all over the earth. They roll around scrubbing up the darkness. mowing down injustice, and building up shaky structures of redemption and renewal. Put in motion centuries ago, the wheels are relentless vessels of creativity and disruption. The greatest opportunities of our lives are when you are invited to ride on the wheels for certain seasons. We may join with God for one or two rotations, and then shift off so others can hop on when our time is up.”

A Level examiners don't get in the way of that invitation. 

Those of you celebrating good results. Do not let these results define you either. Use these results to open doors and make sure you seek out what God has made you for. For many of you, you will now flourish in your chosen subject at University and fly to your next destination. Some of you might find that good results can open wrong doors to destinations that you are not built for. Never be afraid to change course. Your good grades should give you that luxury. 

In the end my old mantra, stolen from Frederick Buechner is the mantra for today, "your vocation is where your deepest gladness meets the world's greatest need." Today, whether you did well or not so well, is just a day to ponder that and find your gladness and where it meets the world's needs. You can get there, wherever you feel you are today!