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October 2019

BEING WITH JESUS - THE SNOW PATROL COMMUNION

What If This - SP

In Fitzroy, just now, we are in a series called BEING WITH. We are seeing the greatest problem at the heart of our humanity as being isolation. The following was posted on social media by Fitzer, John Trinder. It seems that Winnie The Pooh was into our BEING WITH SERIES

 

"Today was a Difficult Day," said Pooh.

There was a pause.

"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Piglet.

"No," said Pooh after a bit. "No, I don't think I do."

"That's okay," said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.

"What are you doing?" asked Pooh.

"Nothing, really," said Piglet. "Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don't feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.

"But goodness," continued Piglet, "Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you've got someone there for you. And I'll always be here for you, Pooh."

And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs...he thought that his best friend had never been more right."

 

As well as Pooh, Snow Patrol seem in on BEING WITH too. In this morning’s communion we are going to listen to their song What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get. Gary Lightbody was not thinking Jesus when he wrote these words but listen to them as if Jesus was speaking from the Lord’s Table.  

 

“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”

 

Gary Lightbody says of this song:

 

"That song is less about love as it is about friendship. A lot of my friends in L.A. and back home in Northern Ireland were actually going through break-ups and divorces around the time that I wrote the song. And I wanted to let them know that I’d been there, you know? And to just come over and sit together. Don’t have to talk, don’t have to say anything. Just know that I’ve been there too. I’ve been in the ruins too. You don’t have to talk immediately. You do have to talk […] but you can both sit together and just know that you’re there for each other."

 

BEING WITH

And then Jesus

In Matthew 26 (26-28) we read:

 

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

One of my favourite writers James K A Smith writes in his book Embracing The Kingdom:

 

“The tangible display and performance of the gospel in the Lord's Supper is a deeply affective practice. Its sights and smells, its rhythms and movements, are the sort of thing that seep into our imaginations and become second nature.

Marshalling the mundane and universal human practice of eating, and thus also taking up the common connection between food and fellowship, the table of the Lord is a catalyst for reconciliation...In a broken, fragmented world, the church is called to be the first fruits of a new creation by embodying a reconciled community; and the way we begin to learn that is at the communion table.”

 

The Lord’s Table is not an add on to the worship service. It is not just a liturgical ritual. This is a table where Jesus, in radical grace, invites us to sit down with him. To BE WITH him. To find him in bread and wine. 

BEING WITH people people transmits their values and traits to you. BEING WITH a spouse for 25 years will change who you are. You will pick up many things, good and sadly bad! 

BEING WITH Jesus is the only way to find his radical life and different rhythms becoming a part of you. 

Sitting at his table and you can soak in the welcoming nature of Jesus, his Emmanuel - God with us -companionship and his forgiving spirit. Be alert also to the humility of his cross, his sacrificial character and that servant heart for the isolated, the alienated, the lost. Look closer and see vibrant imagination, a fresh vision of how it can be and the passion for reconciliation. BEING WITH JESUS, soaking up his presence, should transform us. 

We can know about Jesus. We can hear sermons, or go to lectures, listen to pod casts or read books. Knowledge about someone is not the same as BEING WITH and knowing in that sense. We need to saturate ourselves in the presence of Jesus. Worship helps but best of all is this little piece of bread and sip of wine. Here in this intimate space we can sit in the wreckage and ruins of a broken world and find companionship in Jesus. Now… “what if this is all the love you ever get?”


U2 OCTOBER - HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE

U2 October

Forty years ago this week I turned 20. I had just started University a few weeks before. With birthday present Record Tokens (my very favourite present still!!!!) I made one of the most meaningful LP purchases of my entire life; U2’s October album.

There was quite a buzz about U2 in Ireland at that time. They had played my new Queen’s University’s McMordie Hall (now known as the Mandela Hall) at the start of that year and I had caught a little of the footage when shown on BBC TV, though I was far more interested in Stiff Little Fingers who were shown in the same series. There were also rumours that they were Christians which seemed pretty cool to me, a recent convert myself!

I can remember deciding to buy October in Boots on Royal Avenue. I brought it back to my room in Union Theological College, a room I would live in for six years and I actually do remember setting the needle down on side one. The sound of Gloria filled that wee room and, it has to be said, my heart, my mind and my soul. I guess my life would never be the same again.

These songs cut right into my spiritual journey, into my vocation as a communicator of Christianity, in a plethora of settings. I was plunged into a deep well of quotes, images and ideas and twenty years later I would get the privilege of writing one of the best selling and received books about the band; Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2.

It all started with October. Gloria, Tomorrow, With A Shout (Jerusalem) all grabbed the attention of my soul. I arrived at Queen’s University to study theology having had my life turned around by a God encounter a couple of years before. I was twenty years old and this music opened up ways that I could communicate that faith, initially in the privacy of my college room. 

October vibrated with a faith that was committed and yet vulnerable, honest in frailties but confident in hope. Words like Rejoice and Jerusalem, ideas of worship and theology were not common in mainstream rock music. U2 were not in some Christian ghetto but as Steve Turner would say at Greenbelt some years later were involving themselves in the conversation of the rock world. Turner would go on to say that they didn’t only get involved in such a conversation but began to change the very vocabulary of the conversation; Simple Minds song Sanctify Yourself just one example of such.

In many ways, for me, this juxtaposition is where I have lived ever since and of course U2 have travelled down three decades of spiritual growth along with me. Perhaps everything of my faith is still articulated in U2 records, live shows and interviews. Perhaps Walk On is my own spiritual memoir through U2 songs!

As Bono wrote the almost half baked lyrics of October he was struggling with his faith and vocation and thus aware of his own fallibility. It is a humble way to carry the conviction of faith also present. Conviction of Creed can very easily cause an arrogance of faith that becomes Pharisaic and no friend of Jesus. Here in the full flush of belief U2 are caught in a vortex of struggle which keeps them grounded. These songs fly naively and land with a thud sometimes in the very same songs.

This is also the album most infused with the Shalom Fellowship that Bono, Larry and Edge were very involved with in their early days. There were many such fellowships in Ireland, north and south, at that time. Most of these kinds of groups are forged in a youthful idealism. Such groups broke away from traditional Churches and attempted to return to the spirit of the fledgling house churches of the New Testament.

It is no coincidence that such a phenomenon appears just a few years after the hippy sixties. The freedom of that decade caressing with the charismatic movement birthed an exuberant, communal and organic form of Christian fellowship that in most of its incarnations burned pure and bright for a short period before either falling apart as Shalom did or became a little more mainstream as many others did.

When I spoke to school friend of U2 and fellow Shalom member William MacKay, as I researched Walk On, he spoke of the spontaneity of the October recording sessions. William spoke of how the studio was filled with other members of Shalom and how the sessions would break into worship.

When Neil McCormick, another school friend, but not Shalom member, wrote the CD booklet notes for the Remastered October release in 2008, he mentioned how the rehearsals for the songs were done in their old school Mount Temple and I wonder if this is what William has memories of. Whatever, October is a document of that phase of Christian history. Nowhere else in mainstream music is there a record that best records the Charismatic House Church movement.

In the big picture of U2’s career October is the least important album. It sits between one of the best debut albums ever made, Boy, and the album that would begin U2’s conquering of the world, War.

It was an album strewn with difficulties; it was rushed, the aforementioned spiritual turmoil and the fact that Bono lost the lyrics. The songs come across almost half finished though Van Morrison’s spiritual streams of consciousness lyrics of the same era throws them some forgiveness. Whatever, it is not U2’s greatest artistic moment but in its uniqueness, exuberance and Christian context it is an essential place in U2’s story and very important in the story of many of the rest of us; me in particular!


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 13.10.19 - JESUS AND JEREMIAH

Fitzroy from across the road

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be gathering around Jesus' table to reenact the sacrament that he left us to remember him by. We will have a baptism too. Sacrament Day in Fitzroy! We will then be asking do we know about Jesus? Are we for Jesus? Or... do we send time in the grace and rhythms of Jesus, picking up his radical approach to living. BEING WITH JESUS should change every single thing about what we do every single minute of our day. Do we spend enough time BEING WITH?

In the evening (7pm) we have the next in our fabulous series How to Read the Bible (HtRtB). We are excited to have Peter McDowell telling us about the book of Jeremiah. Who was Jeremiah? What was going on in his day?Why did he write a book? What can we learn from it today? We read the Bible a lot in our wee country But do we have any clue what it is about in its context? This series has been an excellent resource to understanding the Scriptures. Even if you missed all the rest, come along.


SURMISING THE 2 HOUR MARATHON AND HUMANITY REACHING TOO FAR

Kipchoge

He did it. Kenyan, Kipchoge has smashed the 2 hour marathon barrier by 20 seconds. A few weeks ago I was on Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster talking about that very possibility.

I am not sure the panel worked. My favourite athlete Gladys Ganiel who has run marathons at the Commonwealth and European Games was on the panel with me. The other two panelists were also runners. Maybe on the surface I was the fat boy to challenge them! The researchers hadn’t done their job. I was brought up in an athletics family, loved running myself until a knee injured curtailed me and am an avid follower of Gladys Ganiel’s best times!

As a result we never really got to where I think the presenter hoped we would get to. Is humanity over reaching to the point of damaging our humanity? I was keen that the two hour marathon barrier was broken but I also think that we are in danger of over reaching.

Over reaching indeed is humanity’s original sin. The temptation in Eden was to grab that fruit so that we could be like God. In reaching to become more, humans ended up less than we were designed to be. It might be in our DNA ever since.

There is a survival of the fittest mentality I suggested on Sunday Sequence, that encourages us to reach beyond ourselves and put us in a wrong trajectory. 

I believe that we need a realignment with humanity’s place in the created order. My worldview has me as a human in the order of God’s bigger creation. Every Sunday I see worship as a time in the week to remind myself of that space. It is a precious space, as made in the image of the creator and redeemed to be an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus. I recognise my limitations and that is a healthy thing. Allowing myself to be content in my place in the order of things sends me to tackle different problems at the heart of who we are.

It is not our limitations that is humanity’s greatest ailment. It is not that we need to be faster, fitter or better. The greatest problem we urgently need to deal with is isolation. People are lonely, alienated and do not feel that they belong.

In the created order of things, humans are all about relationship with each other, with God and with creation itself. Sometimes in our false desire to be the fittest, fastest, richest the real human priority of relationships with everyone and everything else can be lost. Indeed we might need to trample over others, creation and God for our survival. If our comfort and wealth should threaten our relationships with the environment or a developing world then that is not much more that collateral damage.

The Judeo-Christian idea of a God who created the world for relationship is a powerfully radical antidote to all of this. In this worldview human beings have a role to care for creation not out of what we might gain from it but out of service to God, our fellow humans and indeed creation itself. 

In this Judeo Christian idea we should be using all our resources to overcome isolation for any human being or community. We should be trusting God for the earth’s survival and ours, content in our place in a designed cosmos. From that contentedness the possibilities for good relationships are endless. We should be careful that we do not put that design out of alignment by over reaching to become less.

Should we encourage the breaking of athletics barriers. I see no reason not to. I will watch in suspense. However, when humanity sees limitation as a curse to be overcome, we might have lost the meaning at the core of who we are.


FOR MY SPONSOR CHILDREN ON INTERNATIONAL DAY OF EDUCATION

4 Girls Tee

It is International Day of Education and I am drawn to all the campaigns for education across the world and particularly the education of girls. My thoughts and prayers have been concentrating on Saphara, an NGO concentrating on girls’ education in India. We in Fitzroy are proud that it is headed up by one of congregation Christine Burnett and that many of our Fitzers have been out there to help develop that work.

Mostly today though I am dreaming of a “playground” in Onialeku Primary School, on the outskirts of Arua in West Nile, north west Uganda. I am standing at the corner of a Church building watching and listening to the noise of 400 plus children. I love that sound. I love seeing them all running around. When we are there, they are usually running towards us and I hear them call out to me, “Ya Ya… Ya Ya,” my African name! They all have English ones after all, so I took an African one!

After I take in the wide screen, I start to focus my eyes a little more carefully and reasonably quickly I see Jacqueline and Rachel. When Jacqueline spots me her serious little face lights up in the brightest smile. Rachel on the other hand is so shy that her little head turns in to her shoulder and I have to joust a little humour with her before I see and hear the joy of her laughter.

This is the school that Fitzroy funded, tithing our new halls expansion. Fitzroy sponsor 60 pupils in Onialeku. Jacqueline and Rachel are the Stockmans' sponsor children. Over the last five years we have got to spend time with them and look forward to seeing them again in July. Our girls simply love those girls. It is more than a few pounds in a sponsorship programme.

Before Bishop Isaac had a dream of a school for his neighbourhood Rachel and Jacqueline had no chance of an education. Now, the whole neighbourhood does and though that is good news for all, it is particularly good news for girls. Girls are the ones least likely to go to school and girls are the least likely to keep coming to school. Our sponsorship will mean that parents are more encouraged to keep Rachel and Jacqueline in education.

That is an obvious help for Rachel and Jacqueline and the children like them. As UNICEF puts it, “Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”

What I realised too was that this is not just about Rachel and Jacqueline but about Uganda. I have come to realise that education is not just for the benefit of the pupil but the pupil’s education is vital for a transformed community and nation. Uganda needs teachers, doctors, lawyers, business leaders and so many other things. Through education, we can change the future. Maybe a future President of Uganda is running around my favourite couple of acres of earth at Onialeku Primary School today!

So, I am proud of Jacqueline, Rachel, their parents, Pastor David, Principal Charles, Nursery School head Alice and the Onialeku school management committee. I am proud of Fields Of Life who have built well over 100 schools all over East Africa. I am proud of Fitzroy for partnering. On International Day Of The Girl, I am praying for all our Onialeku children, particularly the girls and most especially for Rachel and Jacqueline.


NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - GHOSTEEN

Ghosteen

Ghosteen is well named. It is a haunting and hypnotic record, written and performed by a man walking through the valley of the show of death. The tragic death of Nick Cave’s son is well documented. That Cave’s last album Skeleton Tree was a response to it is slightly misleading as many of the songs on that record were written before Arthur’s death even apparently the opening lines You fell from the sky/Crash landed in a field.”  

Ghosteen though, even seen as it should be a musical trilogy that began with 2013’s Push The Sky Away, is certainly steeped in a poet father using words to make sense and mourn. Musically it has the same sparse musical accompaniment as the first two in my suggested trilogy, indeed a blend and blur of the two. 

The near flocculent synth sounds give a layer of eery feel that Cave sets upon perhaps the greatest poetic achievement of his career. Ghosteen is when Cave finally and without any more debate takes the Leonard Cohen mantle as poet laureate of rock music. Cohen’s influence is everywhere, particularly on the lead off song Spinning Song when it moves from a near spoken word to melody and almost hymnal vocal.

That word hymnal makes sense. Like Cohen, Cave’s work is haunted with Jesus and God. Unlike Cohen, Cave is not so convinced about the transcendent side of that. He puts that well in Bright Horses:

 

And everyone has a heart and it's calling for something

And we're all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are

And horses are just horses and their manes aren't full of fire

The fields are just fields and there ain't no Lord

 

Cave speaks for a large percentage of his generation, at least in the western world, who struggle with that transcendent side of life, and resultant faith. In Waiting For You he sings:

 

“A priest runs through the chapel, all the calendars are turning

A Jesus freak on the street says, "He is returning"

Well, sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way”

 

If for the Jewish Cohen Jesus seems to have been a strange companion then the same could be said of the athletic or agnostic Cave. The image of Jesus in his mother’s arms appears not only in Night Raid but in Fireflies too. Then in Sun Forest we move from Jesus at Christmas to his Easter Passion:

 

“And it isn't any fun, no, it isn't any fun

To be standing here alone with nowhere to be

With a man mad with grief and on each side a thief

And everybody hanging from a tree, from a tree

And everybody hanging from a tree”

 

As a pastor I often call the death of a loved one a sacred space whether you are of a spiritual faith or not. Grief is a space for reflection and questions and a reconsidering of everything that once seemed sorted. Questions of God are understandable if not obligatory even for those who answer no.

Ghosteen is like a soundtrack for that scared space. Literary, imaginative and constantly returning to a cold often faithless realism it brings us to sharp vivid perspective on what is important. 

Love of wife and the lost son he grieves are central to Cave’s thesis. Perhaps the most stand out lyric of all comes in the title track. In the ordinariness of washing clothes comes the deep currents of love rip. 

 

“I'm speaking about love now

And how the lights of love go down

You're in the back room washing his clothes

Love's like that, you know, it's like a tidal flow

And the past with its fierce undertow won't ever let us go

Won't ever let you go”

 

Indeed!


SEARCH ME OH GOD (10:10) - A BIRTHDAY SURMISE

Stocki KISS

Here is a birthday reflection... It is always a day when I consider my life... its blessings and its challenges... based on Psalm 139:23-24 and John 10:10... 

 

Search me oh God

Plumb the fathoms of my mystery

Illuminate the shadows and shine

And hone well who I am meant to be

Mercifully squeeze the flaws and foibles from me

Give forgiveness to all I have injured

Dig deep for the servant image in me

And annihilate the selfish whinger

 

10:10 this life is full

Full of gladness and of grief

Full of brokenness and grace

Full of dark glass and belief

10:10 this life is full

Full of gratitude and over demanding

Full of joy and consternation

Full of love and misunderstanding

 

Search me oh God

To the marrow of my heart

Give hope in every hopeless rerun

And a patient plethora of clean starts.


I FORGIVE YOU... THREE DIFFICULT WORDS - AN AMISH RESPONSE

Amish

(this was my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on October 9th 2019... the theme for the week was Forgiveness...)

 

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. Could the more difficult three words be I forgive you. Coming from Northern Ireland we live in a perpetual struggle over the legacy of our Troubles that left more than 3,500 people dead. Sorry. I forgive you. Big words.

I am constantly inspired by the Amish people. The everyday ordinariness of their extraordinary forgiveness came to my attention at the time of the Nickel Mines Schoolhouse shootings in Lancaster County, Pennsylvannia back in 2006. Charles Roberts, a non Amish gunman, shot ten young Amish girls, killing five of them dead.

The response of this Amish community was startling. Within hours of the shootings, the Amish had visited the killer’s wife and parents. They not only told them that they forgave them but they actually set up a charitable fund for the killer’s children.

I forgive you to the family of the killer of your children. What kind of love is this? Jesus told us to love our neighbours and God… BUT he went further and asked us to love our enemies. For the Amish community Jesus call to love and forgiveness were not to be discussed or debated. They were ideas to be lived. The Amish community teach their children about forgiveness from the moment they can teach them anything. 

Yet, forgiveness for the Amish is not about wiping some objective slate clean. Forgiving is a loving act that seeks to build friendship with those that they should be at enmity with. This kind of forgiveness and love is at the heart of the Christian faith. God doesn’t only forgive us… he reaches out to build relationship with us. Every Thursday night Charles Roberts’ mother now reads and prays with a severely brain damaged little girl that her son shot.

Taking Jesus command to love and forgive seriously is not going to be easy but when it breaks in, it changes people and communities. Sorry - hard. I forgive you - even more difficult. BUT… How would my wee country be if we didn’t only forgive but made friends with those we are at enmity with? 


BEING WITH THE OTHER - JESUS MODEL, JESUS CALL & THE CHARACTER OF GOD

Stockman 4C Launch

Two 4 Corners Festival quotations have struck a long chord with me. The first was at The New Irish Arts performance in Clonard Monastery in 2015. Taking a mainly evangelical Protestant group  onto the Falls Road for the first time is very 4 Corners Festival. That the them was the First World War, even more so! In that performance was a line, “Hatred is compromised by friendship”.

Then in 2019 we had Catholic Priest Fr Greg Boyle spoke in Skainos on the Newtownards Road about radical kinship. The responder to Fr Greg was PSNI Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Tim Mairs. This was again poignant as we were just days after the murder of Ian Ogle just a few streets away. In Tim’s address he said, “It is hard to demonise someone you know”. 

Recently, in my BEING WITH sermon series in Fitzroy I was looking at BEING WITH THE OTHER. Friendship. Knowing someone. It is all about relationship. BEING WITH.

Jesus was WITH the OTHER. Whether a Samaritan woman who was OTHER in gender, politics and religion. Zacchaeus who was OTHER in being seen as a traitor, collecting taxes for the oppressing Roman Empire. A Roman centurion who Jesus described in some of the most radical of all his sentences, “Never have I seen such faith in all of Israel”. Oh my!

Jesus modelled BEING WITH THE OTHER. He also called us to it. For those of us who live in conflict zones Luke 6: 27-36 is a tough Gospel passage. Here Jesus calls us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”. This is heavy stuff. Jesus most radical call perhaps. 

Yet, Jesus goes on to explain to us that this is the very stuff that his followers are about. To love those who love you? Anyone can do that. He then repeats the loving and the doing good before he brings this call back to the character of God - “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

When I sued to take University Chaplaincy team sto South Africa we met with a man called Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile. Spiwo used to say how we always seem to have excuses about feeding the poor or looking after the marginalised. Oh how that is the case with BEING WITH THE OTHER. We have so many excuses. Political, theological even. Yet, in this sermon on the plain Jesus leaves us no excuses.

BEING WITH THE OTHER, compromising hatred with friendship and eradicating the demonising of people by getting to know them. It is the model Jesus leaves us, the call that Jesus gives us and it all comes from the character of God. Let us quit the excuses!


MARY GAUTHIER & MARTYN JOSEPH in FITZROY in NOVEMBER

Gauthier

MARY GAUTHIER

Real Music Club

FITZROY

NOVEMBER 2, 2019 @8pm

£25 tickets available HERE 

Gauthier has been making quality albums since she dealt with her addictions 25 years ago. Ten albums of very personal songs was added to by her 2018 album Rifles and Rosary Beads, an album about war, co written with veterans of the Iraq war. Call her the Wilfred Owen of her generation. With its juxtaposition of war and Church, there might be no better place to hear these songs. Powerful songwriting and I am sure when you she sings Mercy Now you’ll remember having heard it somewhere without ever knowing that Mary Gauthier sang it.

Martyn J

MARTYN JOSEPH

Real Music Club

FITZROY

NOVEMBER 7, 2019 @ 8pm

£17 TICKETS HERE

Martyn has been a friend for decades and his songwriting has journeyed with me like a companion for the road, as he himself describes it. Whether the personal or the global, Martin is always expressing the joys of love, the pain of brokenness, the scandal of injustice and the hope of personal and global healing. A masterful live performance expect to laugh to cry, to be enraged and to commit to a more grace filled world. You’ll be gripped!