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May 2020

WHY JANICE AND I FEAR COMING OUT OF LOCK DOWN

Stocki and Jani Fred
the photo is the two of us modelling Norn Iron Tees and Tote Bags... put a laugh on your shirt here https://nornirontees.com

 

I was on the phone with a friend recently who said that he and his wife were feeling guilty for actually enjoying lock down. I understood the sentiment. 

Janice and I are both only children and so are very used to our own company. We have our daughters locked down with us. This is almost perfect for us.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. A friend lost a friend to Covid 19 this past week. We are aware of the grief. We have members of Fitzroy on the NHS front line. We are anxious. My father has dementia and is in a Residential Home. We are frightened. 

Yet, in the every day lock down we are more than surviving. We are thriving. Fitzroy’s nerve centre has moved to our kitchen table. Janice is phoning around the congregation, doing Rhyme Time with the toddlers on Zoom as well as the Woman’s Group. I conjure Sunday morning’s service, lead the Zoom Prayer meeting and keep a handle on pastoral care, neighbourhood outreach and other projects.

Life is full if not as mad crazy busy as the “normal” life we used to live. It has been time consuming learning all kinds of new technical operations but for us there have been lots of advantages.  

I have been on a journey, understanding something about myself, for a couple of years. Writer Donald Miller put out a piece on the hard work that the introvert has to do in company. It struck a chord. It was like he was describing me.

Yet, me an introvert? Who would think? My office is a lecturn in front of a full Church. I have led communion to 20,000 people. I have made crowded rooms across the world laugh out loud as well as hopefully communicate something of God’s grace and imagination.  

This is true. Give me a crowd, the bigger the better. Push me out before it and something deep within me decides to go for broke. If they are going to laugh at me, I might as well ham it up. Maybe I can grab their attention. I believe that without doubt that it is what I was born for.

However, send me into a room with no introduction or reason to be there and I am the last person who will walk across and introduce myself. I am, below the hoopla, very shy. I become that only child who didn’t learn interaction with brothers and sister. I sat in my music room and played The Beatles. On my own.

So reading Donald Miller was a relief. He explained my struggle. He understood. The extrovert refreshes in socialising. The extrovert refuels in crowds. The introvert is working his or her socks off in any group dynamic. Even though I am looking confident and extrovert on the surface, my inner core is running like a marathon runner to keep up. It is exhausting.

So, during this lock down, Janice and I have rested from that hard work that we believed we are called to. We really have had sabbatical. We understand the struggles our friends are having being cut off from social groups. We understand but we are not struggling. 

In fact we are beginning to struggle as we start to imagine the coming out of lock down. We are aware that this idyllic cocoon we are in is soon to be over. We are bracing ourselves. We know that it will mean party time, a celebratory overload of the social gatherings that tire us out. We will want to be there but we are readying ourselves for the hard work.

I suppose that I am writing this to say that for the vast majority this lock down has been a mental stretching. Mental health has been rightfully high on the agenda of those of us who pastor and care. As lock down lifts us introverts are simply asking that our mental struggles would be equally considered. 

Indeed this respite has been unprecedented (how many times have I heard that word!) for us shy folk. The norm stretches our mental resources all of the time. As introverts have been gentle with extroverts during lock down, please be sympathetic to us as it lifts! 

 


THE PNEUMATOLOGY BENEDICTION

Jani and I
 
My benediction in yesterday's Fitzroy On-Line Sunday Service (17.5.2020) after a sermon on the workings of the Holy Spirit during and after lock down...
 
Janice and I send it out as a blessing for the week ahead...
 
 
May God the Father bless us and keep us
 
May Jesus words be a lamp for our feet
 
May the Holy Spirit accompany us, abide in us, comfort us and guide us as individuals and a community of faith.
 
AMEN

UNADULTERATED LOVE (UNDERNEATH THE WEATHER) - for our Anniversary

Stocki and Jani Wedding

Today this poem, that I never quite felt finished seems perfectly complete as Janice and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.

The "dramatic terrain" could be Coronavirus lock down. The "unadulterated love" under the bad weather is the real love we have known in joy and grief down those 24 years. 

The day I wrote it was a horrible Irish weather day. I was on a work trip to Dublin.

On the train listening to Crosby Still & Nash, Suite; Judy Blue Eyes the song struck me as a great lesson in love. CSN were not always the best purveyors of what real love is but on this one they throw out some wise insight - "I am yours, you are mine/You are what you are". These lines led me on a surmising of love and the secrets needed.

Later that day, I coincidently found myself on the bridge across the Liffey that I used stop on for a moment every morning in the early 90's as I walked from Tara Station to my office. I would stop on the bridge many times and just breathe in the joy of living in Dublin and being in love with Janice. 

So, in our lock down that, as only children, we are rather guilty enjoying, Emmanuel Anniversary Janice Gordon.

 

Raindrops interrupt my vision

Water streams down the window pane

An ambiance thrown across the horizon

Making a dirty and dramatic terrain

It is overcast and it is cloudy

It is lashing down and gray

But here I am and this now

Thank you God it’s a beautiful day

 

Underneath the weather

Deepest green and brightest blue

Underneath whatever

The unadulterated beauty of you

 

I stood on this bridge thirty years ago

To watch the Liffey flow thirty years on

And I prayed to God that you’d be here

The love to build a life upon

We kissed this morning and said goodbye

I said I would see you later on

I thanked my God that you’d be there

And for the love we build our life upon.

 

Underneath the weather

Deepest green and brightest blue

Underneath whatever

The unadulterated beauty of you.

 

 

 


THE IRISH BLESSING - GOING VIRAL ON PENTECOST SUNDAY (with Fr Martin Magill)

Irish-Blessing-01

We all need prayers, benedictions and blessings in these challenging times. I have been writing special benedictions for our Fitzroy on-line worship services that I send out on social media every week. We have caught on as to how important the right song is as people watch our services.

We are also finding as the national surveys statistics tally that more people than usual are watching church services and googling "prayer". Check out Russell Brand's vlog on "Googling Prayer" or singer Tracey Thorn's beautiful piece of spiritual vulnerability in the New Statesman.

It seems the perfect time, therefore, for an Irish Blessing. There have been Irish blessings written, prayed and sung for centuries But what if we took one, Be Thou My Vision, and got the entire island involved in singing it. What if it was performed by local Churches as thank yous to the residential homes around us and then what if an island wide one was sent as a viral blessing on social media to the entire island and beyond.

Well, work is underway for such a musical blessing, going viral on Pentecost Sunday. A link to the details are below. My good friend Fr Martin Magill has been up to his eyes as part of the planning group. Here is his Belfast Telegraph piece about the project that was published yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph...  

 

Over the past few weeks of the pandemic restrictions we have seen throughout the world an outburst of creativity or certainly more expressions of such creativity in social media. I’ve been particularly interested in the number of choirs who have been able to produce some amazing songs and hymns in virtual performances. 

In some of the more recent developments choirs from various churches at national and local level have shared very impressive and indeed moving examples of a sung prayer blessing such as the recent highly acclaimed UK Churches blessing.

Following on from the incredible response to the UK Blessing, (which at the time of writing has had almost two and half million views on Youtube), a Dublin based Church of Ireland ordinand, Philip McKinley posted on Facebook about the possibility of doing something for Ireland, north and south.

He had a huge response to this post indicating the interest in doing so. A mutual friend then connected Philip and me and over the last week or so we have been meeting virtually each day to co ordinate a sung blessing for this land. We now have a dedicated website (https://theirishblessing.com/) as well as a social media presence. 

During the week we put out a call to singers and musicians in churches across Ireland to join together to praise God by providing a “virtual” tribute/blessing for frontline workers in recognition of their dedicated service.  The invitation is extended to all churches on the island of Ireland to support this unique opportunity. At a local level participants are asked to choose a facility which provides an essential service and to dedicate their rendition of a special arrangement of the hymn “Be Thou my Vision”.

Today on our website, the backing track with the hymn arrangement as well guidelines on recording and uploading will be available for singers and musicians. 

The team delivering the project recognise it is a tight turn around (the deadline is Friday 22 May at 12 noon) for those who want to be part of the island-wide video.  The time frame needs to be very tight in order to launch it on Pentecost Sunday, 31 May.  

As I reflect on the experience of online worship and prayer, I have been surprised by how many people have found it to be helpful and supportive. As I was writing this article, I was listening to the UK Churches blessing. In terms of my parish online ministry, in a recent survey (online of course) parishioners commented especially on the importance of Compline (Night Prayer) at 9pm to help bring some form of peaceful and reassuring closure to another day during these times. 

With the increase in the numbers tuning into online worship on a Sunday and with the opportunity to watch when it suits, it is my hope that the virtual choir and musicians taking part will be a blessing not only for those who are front line workers but also for the rest of us as we listen or sing along to the words of “Be Thou my Vision”. 

The references in the prayer to armour and sword are thought to be inspired by some of the imagery in St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:16-17 such as ‘shield of faith’, ‘helmet of salvation’ and ‘the sword of the Spirit’: 

 

Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight

Be Thou my armour and be Thou my might

Thou my soul shelter, and Thy my high tower

Raise Thou me heavenwards, oh power of my power

 

Praying for protection and blessing is particularly apt during these times.


GET TUSKED - KEN CAILLAT and HERNAN ROJAS - book review

Get Tusked

Ken Caillat’s book Making Rumours is one of my very favourite rock music reads. It had this perfect balance between the relationship drama involved and the technical wizardry used to make one of the greatest records of all time.

When I heard that Caillat had done the follow up then I was in. I couldn’t wait.

And… I wasn’t disappointed. Oh, for me, the book about Tusk wasn’t a patch on the one about Rumours but then neither was the record. 

For this one Caillat has brought in Hernan Rojas a fellow engineer as a co-author and in some ways it is Rojas for me who brings the real excitement. Rojas is from Chile and his story of leaving for a rock life in LA is a movie in itself but he end up being Stevie Nicks’ boyfriend every male Fleetwood Mac fan who is reading it will think that he is living all of our dreams!

If Making Rumours was about the break ups of Christine and John McVie and Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, the soap opera side of Being Tusked is the strained relationship between Buckingham and the rest of the band. This story is set in 1978 and 79 but you can almost see right here why he was eventually sacked from the band in 2018!

Just as the music of Rumours was indelibly marked by the romantic break ups on 1977, without doubt Tusk has artistic differences riven right through it.

As I read the book, I was listening to the record. Buckingham’s obstreperous behaviour made me hate the record.

Rumours was such a mega-hit that Buckingham felt it would be artistically lazy to replay the formula. Influenced by punk and rockabilly he set out to chop down the Fleetwood Mac’s Joshua Tree, that act of reinvention that U2 would so successfully achieve between Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby in 1991.

To attempt this Buckingham even recorded the punk-ish rockabilly-ish songs The Ledge, Save Me A Place and That’s Enough For Me pretty much solo. 

I know why Buckingham wanted to do it. I just do not believe that Buckingham succeeded the way U2 did. Tusk sounds much more fragmented, like three solo artists sowing an album together and not very seamlessly. However, after a list to alternate tracks and a long think about the book probably helped me not only understand Tusk but actually liking it more than I ever have.

For fans the recording to the title track is probably the most fascinating section of the book. How they assembled the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band and then worked out how to record them is the most technically intriguing part of the book. 

Using the new digital sound systems pioneered by a company in Salt Lake City called Soundstream actually bring the personal and technical together. It also reminds us that Tusk was not just made as punk changed the music but also as digital recording was changing the process.

All over there is plenty in the making of Tusk to create a good read and Caillat and Hernos write it well, alternating between each other as it goes. 

If you wonder how close they really get to the band and the record then check the cover, where Caillat’s faithful dog Scooter also featured in the Making Rumours gets his picture on it - story within!

Like Rumours is to Tusk so the books. Tusk didn’t live up to the brilliance but though Buckingham’s sabotage of the sound doesn’t create a better album it certainly creates an interesting one. One worth reading about. 


TOMORROW ON FITZROY TV - 17.5.2020

Stocki smiling in pulpit

Tomorrow, Fitzroy is back on YouTube with our Sunday On-Line Service (available from 11am). As has become our two month tradition we will have worship from a Fitzer family home, this week Gareth, Karen and Eleanor Black will lead us with Jonah on production duties! Theo Fitch will read and Karen Smyth will lead our prayers for the work of our Councils. We will get an update on our local Foodbank from Brenda Johnston and an absolute treat as the talented Erin Thompson sings us a song.

I will be following the Lectionary reading from John 14 and suggesting that we are in need of Pneumatology! I will unpack what I mean with the help of the film Tolkien as well as cultural observations from singer Tracey Thorn and the seemingly mad and brash but at times sensitively perceptive Russell Brand.

There is also a special Children's programme to use at the same time.

In the evening two Fitzroy events go live at 7. 

Paul In Ten by Gary Burnett continues. This has been an insightful look into the theology of the apostle Paul. A series of ten talks, each ten minutes long is now at number 7. We will be looking at peace in Paul's thought, not just personal but societal. I have heard Gary on this subject before. It is not to be missed.

Also at 7, the Passion goes out on Instagram, when Jonny Fitch will lead our youth in some informal worship that everyone is welcome to. 

You can of course watch Jonny and then Gary afterwards. Do it all. Fitzroy!

 

watch this week's service and all our recent services HERE

watch Paul In Ten, with Gary Burnett HERE

watch Fitzroy songs HERE


HOPE

Stockies Hope

I discovered this poem as I was looking through old blogs and I thought it seemed a perfect contribution to these strange lock down times...

 

Hope is a known starling falling

Hope is the shade of an apricot tree

Hope is a dove with a leaf in its mouth

Hope is a star in the sky named for me

 

Hope is a greeting in the silence

Hope is a hand held tight in grief

Hope is a song sung in darkness

Hope is a fragile and robust belief

 

Hope is the promise you remember

Hope is the substance of a mystery

Hope is a veil that’s torn asunder

Hope is a stone that’s rolled away.

 

Hope is a decision for love and joy

And that we're going to get out of this minute

Hope is belief in tomorrow ahead

And that today we’re going to live in it.


FAMILY... AS A PLACE OF EDUCATION AND SPIRITUAL RETREAT

The girls 09

(this was my Pause For Thought on Vanessa Feltz, BBC Radio 2, on May 15th, 2020... The theme was "Family"... )

 

Family life eh. That is a little more intensive for some of us in lock down. I have come to realise that family is a place of education and spiritual retreat.

Just before our daughter Jasmine was born, I rubbed her mummy’s tummy and said “Come on little angel. Arrive and show us all those things you need to teach us.”

Family is a great school. I am more shaped by what happened in my home than what happened in schools or universities.

The teaching is more subjective. You don’t learn so much about pythagorus or chemical tables or rift valleys or Tudor Kings as you do about yourself.

I remember my older daughter Caitlin lying between us one Saturday morning when she was very tiny. We were trying to get an extra hour’s sleep and she was probably keen to wake us up. As I tried to encourage her to shut her eyes she just looked into mine and said, “I see myself. I see myself!” 

That woke me up! How profound! I then realised that I had my glasses on and she was seeing her reflection in my glasses.

Still, what we learn in those closest and most intense personal engagements shape us profoundly. In those closest to us we see ourselves.

Now I know there are probably strengths in what Caitlin saw in that reflection but I am always fearing the weaknesses. My history teacher taught me that every person who achieved anything worthwhile was aware of their weaknesses.

One of my favourite Psalms in the Bible says “Search me, God, and know my heart… See if there is any offensive way in me”. 

I am ever keen to know those weaknesses. I am keen to stop offending my neighbour. I want less bad habits to hand on to the next generation.

When I pray that Psalm I often feel that God answers. Ok Steve I will search you… I will point out your offensive ways. Now back to your family and we’ll get started… and by the way, I hear God add, in 2020 we are going to have a more intensive learning programme!


HOW DO YOU DO THAT? - Writers: Steve Stockman & Gareth Black... Singer: Eleanor Black

 

I wrote this song with Gareth Black, former guitarist and songwriter with Belfast band Halcyon Days, forgive me but from back in the halcyon days of the 90s. Gareth says that it is his first composition since the band broke up in 1999. I find that a travesty that he hasn't written since but I also feel excited that Fitzroy's fertile field of creativity has him writing again.

I wrote the lyric in a couple of places. It all began in Cape Town, back in the noughties. There with my Chaplaincy students to build houses on the townships with Habitat For Humanity, our family used to stay in a guest house called The Eagles Nest.

It looked out over the Lion's Head and Signal Hill and in the evening from the balcony I was always mesmerised by the beauty of the sunsets and the trees across the hillside. That was when I first asked God how he did that with the same time and colours of sky. Different every single night. Bruce Cockburn might have been playing too!

I then revived the idea in our other favourite scenic place - Ballycastle. I used a longer poem written in Cape Town as a short raptured benediction in Ballycastle last summer -

 

How do you do that?

With the same time of night

Turn the day’s benediction

Into pretty pastel pixels of light

How do you do that?

In the very same cloth of skies

Tie dye all these colourscapes

With swathes and swirls of surprise

Every night it’s another picture

We click in vain hope of capture

The tossed dust of God’s imaginings

As we gasp in holy rapture.

 

Gareth was taken by this version and then added a verse. He takes a mantra of mine in Fitzroy that we are all particles of light, shining across the darkness of the city and world. He acts like the McCartney to my Lennon and adds to the piece.

Then when he has the tune and melody to set the words upon Gareth has a gifted daughter, Eleanor, with a wonderful voice to sing the song. Not finished yet and Gareth sets the whole thing into a video of the evening sky. It is effective. 

We used it last Sunday morning, after the benediction to our on-line worship service. It sits beautifully, psalm-like as a post service opportunity for meditation.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


DENISON WITMER - AMERICAN FOURSQUARE

Denison 4

Gorgeous in the best definition of that word. Delicious in the best definition… If music was ice cream then this would be my flavour.

When my Granny Stockman, “Annie Meta Luke from Ahoghill” as she called herself, told me not to go looking for women who wore make up and big false eye lashes, she certainly hung her rural conservative north Antrim values out there. I laughed at her old traditional ways but to be fair she could also have been describing Janice, who I finally did marry. She’d have been pretty pleased.

She could also have been describing Denison Witmer’s music. 

I have written before how just three piano chords into his short live set at Calvin College’s Festival Of Faith and Music in 2003 I was in love with this sparse sound. Everything Denison does is so spacious, so utterly pure and unadorned. 

Denison’s art doesn’t need make up or those false eyelashes. It is as beautiful as it can get without any need to decorate. When percussion breaks in on San Francisco it almost seems to apologise. All you need is that voice, the melodies and Witmer’s simple but profound words. The rest is the frailest of a framework for the songs to hang, with near perfect skin.

American Foursquare is a record that my Granny might have related to. After a couple of decades in the big city of Philadelphia, Denison and his wife and two children relocated to his small hometown of Lancaster PA. After ten albums a couple of eps and a live record Denison stepped back from the industry’s push and pull and constant travelling to settle close to family and gave up the wood of his acoustic guitar to make things out of wood as a carpenter.

These songs record that experience. This is a record about home life. There are love songs to his wife. Birds Of Virginia is a wonderful love song. Rock music is okay with love songs. Songs about the children not so much. Witmer’s genius even allows him to transcend all the sentimental quick sand of that most dangerous endeavour. Confident Sensitive Child and Robin succeed where so many have failed abysmally!

Don’t think that songs about washing dishes and doing the laundry are too domesticated for the big questions. Witmer’s unassuming genius is that he can in the deftest of poetry drop a big heavy death charge in the middle of a motionless lake that ripples out forever. 

Take these lines from River of Music: -

 

We live in a difficult time 

How do you want to live your life? 

Where are you going to spend your love? 

Isn’t that alone enough? 

 

Or in Save Me From Myself, which could be the mission statement of everything Denison Witmer has ever written: -

 

In the modern age 

My addictions have me caged 

And the social posturing 

I feel cynical and vain 

 

Set the needle down on American Foursquare if you want the gentlest of meditative sounds and something deep to meditate on. It is utterly beautiful in the best definition of that word.