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September 2021

PEACE - GOD'S PRIORITY, COMMAND AND COMMITMENT

Peace day 21

 

The first time I heard Over The Rhine sing Another Christmas... 

“I hope that we can still believe

The Christ child holds a gift for us

Are we able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas”

… something went off deep within me. It is not a new line. I have been living with this line most of my life. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hear it at Christmas time. I heard it for years before I even believed that what it was talking about was any kind of reality. For the last thirty years I have worked the phrase annually. One of my other favourite bands U2 even had a song called Peace On Earth and I have written about that song.

However, it was during one of Stormont’s far too many crises and I was surmising that peace was not high on some of our politicians’ agendas that that near over familiar line, “Peace on earth this Christmas”, struck a chord as loud as any Jimmy Page strum and as spiritually powerful as an Old Testament prophet or actually a New Testament angel on the night God came to earth! 

“Peace, Steve, Peace” is what my soul kept repeating. It is not about justice or vengeance, it is not about proving who was right or wrong. It is not about us and them and us winning. The point of this mission that God had in coming to earth was peace. That peace was not just for my soul. It was about peace on earth. Anyone following this Jesus whose birth is heralded in this angel’s song should be all about peace. 

This of course is not an out of the blue declaration of a God reaching for some Plan B or C. The Old Testament was all about this peace; shalom is how the Jewish people said it. Shalom was God’s intention in the law given, for the King’s to achieve and for the prophets to critique the lack of. A favourite verse on the subject that I have blogged often is Jeremiah 29:7 “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (NKJV)

Those who claim to follow the baby born when the angels sang need to find that priority of peace. That God’s people would seek shalom wherever they were was a way of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart, different, in all the right ways, from the other nations. We need to not blend in to the world’s intuitive response to seek to be proven right, in control and avenging all who would come against us. We need to be about that ministry of reconciliation that God told us we would be about just as we are connected to God himself through that same ministry of his peace making.

On this International Day Of Peace, I am wearing my John Lennon War Is Over t-shirt. The strap line is “if we want it”.  The love, the reaching out across our divides, the scandalous forgiveness, the imagination to find ways to compromise. We need to want it.

God demands that we want it. Peace is high on God's agenda. He declares it. He commands it. He seeks that we would be committed to it. We need to see afresh this Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all that grace that is intrinsic to the baby laid in the manger.

Ephesians 2 - 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Peace.


LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM - LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM

Lindsey Buckingham

It seems to me that Lindsey Buckingham’s eponymously named seventh album is as much about the drama of Fleetwood Mac as it is about the music. Three years after getting sacked from Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham lays down his most Fleetwood Mac sounding solo record and kind of says, “See what you missed?”.

Let’s look back at the drama…

The 1973 album called Buckingham Nicks set it all rolling. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, very much a couple, had made a record of harmonious songs but were already fighting over the naked cover photograph.

All that the two artists would become is right there on the tracks - Lindsey Buckingham’s instrumental invention and Stevie Nicks mystical voiced sugar coating. Crystal even found itself onto the couple’s first Fleetwood Mac record after Mick Fleetwood hears Frozen Love over the speakers of a studio he was testing and head hunts Buckingham immediately. He won’t jump without Nicks. I wonder how many times he looked back at that decision!

Rumours is the new amalgam’s iconic piece but as it is well documented the seeming harmonious west coast sound is coming out of love stories of utter disharmony. Go Your Own Way or Never Going Back Again. The message was clearly heartache even if the sound was almost joyous! 

Fleetwood Mac’s career since has attempted to out do the interpersonal dramas of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young. Original members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who Peter Green named his band after have kept the back beat while one minute Nicks, for 16 years Christine McVie and for a time Buckingham have huffed, stayed away, gone to rehab or got sacked!

The 2017 Buckingham McVie record that should have been Fleetwood Mac, had Nicks not boycotted, was followed by Buckingham getting sacked. That was the last move. Fleetwood Mac touring with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and Crowded House’s Neil Finn instead of their prime sonic consultant, arranger, producer.

So, Buckingham who has always called his own work “esoteric and a little left field’ brings ten songs right into the centre and makes them utterly Fleetwood Mac accessible. So accessible that Time is almost Pat Boone croon and Dancing is more fragile than anything he has ever done, ending the whole thing with a hushed whisper.

I Don’t Mind and Blue Light have the rhythmic signature finger picking while On The Wrong Side has the shiny guitar solo fade out. You can almost hear Nicks and McVie harmonies on Santa Rosa.

That last comment might sum it all up. This is a fabulous record. Yet, you feel that it could have been even more brilliant. As Buckingham screams “look what you missed by sacking me” there is a kind of echo that says “How good this could have been if they’d all been getting on in this particular year”. 

Oh the drama.


MARTIN & STEVE'S BIG 60TH BIRTHDAY FUNDRAISER FOR EMBRACE NI

Old Friends black and white

photo: Bernie Brown

 

"Old friends

Sat on a park bench like bookends..." (Paul Simon)

 

My good friend Fr Martin Magill was 60 back on September 13th. I honestly have no idea what it must be like to be his age! In less than three weeks I will. 

We have often found it so interesting, that though not meeting until we were almost 50, our birthdays are so close together. "1961 was a great year", Martin often says.

With such BIG birthdays coming up we thought that it would be a great idea to try and use such landmarks to raise money and profile for a small local NGO.

We chose Embrace NI for its work with refugees and asylum seekers.

We set a target of £1000. We met the target by the time Fr Martin had eaten all of his cake. We doubled our target last week and have passed it again. So today we are doubling it again and announcing a new target of £4000.

So forget sending us tokens and presents. Donate to Embrace NI and check out what they can do for you, your Church and your community.

We have had an amazing decade working together. We have helped create  Belfast’s 4 Corners Festival which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in February 2020. 

We pleaded for Jesus concept of grace to be used in peacemaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. Both of us can be heard regularly on the radio, we have written together for various publications and we shared a Saturday column, for the first year of Coronavirus, in the Belfast Telegraph.

In 2016 we were overwhelmed when we were presented with the Community Relations Council’s Civic Leadership Award.

Martin is involved all kinds of amazing causes, particularly Stop Attacks and we all still remember his prophetic speech at Lyra McKee’s funeral, when I was fist pumping as I watched on TV.

We both feel that God has really blessed us in our friendship, our lives and vocations. We also feel that they are blessed enough with things and so the idea the BIG 60th Birthday Fundraise

We have chosen Embrace NI because it is interdenominational and helps us fulfil a clear Biblical mandate to take care of the refugee. Watching the news footage from Afghanistan reminds us that all over the world people are fleeing terrible wars, oppression and poverty to find a better, safer life for their family. We are of course aware that Jesus was a refugee too. 

We see the work Embrace does, not only in its emergency response to refugees but also their role of educating and resourcing the church as being so crucial. 

We therefore encourage you, if you know Martin, if you have benefitted in any way from our individual ministries or our work together to make a contribution to Embrace NI at the link below.

DONATE TO EMBRACE NI FOR MARTIN AND STEVE'S 60th 

READ ABOUT EMBRACE NI FUNDING HERE


JESUS TURNING UPSIDE DOWN OUR SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

Stocki McCrea shot

photo: Philip McCrea

 

September 19th 2021's lectionary was Mark 9:30-37 and I found me looking deeper at a mantra verse of mine, down through many years.

Jesus revolutionary idea that“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” lives with me on a daily basis. It sums up the radical upside down world of the Kingdom and is also a description of Jesus himself - he who was first became last that we who were last could become joint heirs with God. Wow!

In this sermon I pan in closer and look at how such a Kingdom impacts our social decisions about who in the room, on the street, across the city and the world are the most important people. The world around us seems in Jesus view of a bogus idea of prestige. Let's look at how that should change our day.

Withs tories about singer Rich Mullins and an out of tune choir and author David Dark with a physically challenged young man I unpack what Jesus showed us when he brought children into the circle and embraced them. 

 


LUCIA'S STORY.. & A QUESTION OF YOU - On Organ Donation Week

EMB-Lucia-Quinney-Mee

photo: Jasmine Stockman

 

It is Organ Donation Week. Let me tell you a story and then ask you to do something.

Lucia Quinney Mee passed away a few days before her 21st birthday. Over the previous 12 she had depended on four families giving their loved ones organs that she might live.

For most of her life she was best friends to our daughter's Caitlin and Jasmine, living in the same cul-de-sac where our own house is in Ballycastle.

Along with Lucia's sister Alice, the four girls connected one sunny day and soon were all splashing in our kiddies pool. They were four buddies ever since, walking through childhood and their teens until Lucia would leave them in May 2020.

There were so many incredible happy memories. Yet, I guess Lucia’s story stood out in sad and wonderful ways. Around 2007 the girls came up to a Chaplaincy night at Derryvolgie Hall, where I was Chaplain. They did their dance routine, cute kids loved by our students. Lucia’s eyes were a little yellowish… within a week she was in an operating theatre in Birmingham Children’s Hospital receiving her first liver transplant. 

Lucia received her fourth liver in King’s Hospital, London the day before New Year’s Eve 2019. Sadly, she never quite made it through. For five months she battled with her amazing parents and sister by her side. We hoped. We prayed but as her dad told us “sometimes love is not enough to hold a body together.”

Through twelve years and those first three livers Lucia has lived the most incredible, inspirational life. She became a swimming star at British and World Transplant Games. Gold medals were plentiful. She carried the Olympic torch in 2012.

She set up a charity Live Loudly, Donate Proudly while ill before her third liver transplant that encourages people to donate organs. In 2016 she organised a Gala Dinner for Transplant charities and her speech was so mature and articulate. 

She also spoke at the 4 Corners Festival Banquet in January 2018 when we celebrated families who donated their loved ones organs to others. 

Her Live Loudly Donate Proudly blog showed an exceptional flair for writing for one so young.

In 2017 she was the youngest in the Queens New Year’s Honour’s List, receiving a British Empire Medal. Our Jazzi took the photo above for the press! She also got to have lunch with the Queen herself.

In between all of that there were parties and pop concerts and all the stuff a young woman does. In spite of all she had to go through Lucia lived loudly and more than that selflessly. In the pool she swam for her donors whom she never knew but never forgot. She wanted others to have the gift of life she was given for those twelve years. She was a world changer. 

We loved her. We admired her. Last night sitting in her parents house, a house filled with photographs of her bright, brave smile I was emotional again.

Today I want to thank again, though I don't know who they are, the donors' families that allowed Lucia to become so precious to us. Life. More days to love. What a gift!

So on Organ Donation Week, have the conversation. Tell your loved ones that should tragedy cut your life short that you want to give a longer life to all the Lucias. To give life through your death. It almost has a Gospel sized sense.

Do it. Do it this week. Do it now!

 

I remember you, tiny in the corner

Coming over to splash in the water

I had no idea that down the years

You’d become an extra daughter

I remember the Chinese lanterns

Going up in the New Year sky

Writing how you’d change the world

And wondering how they fly

 

I regret not seeing you in the pool

When, even second, you were a winner

Olympic torch and Empire medal

The Queen inviting you for dinner

I remember your big Gala night

When as well as your beautiful fashion

You spoke courage beyond your years

With articulate flair and passion

 

Live loudly donate proudly

Is exactly who you are

And in every dark night of my soul

I’ll go searching for your star

We loved you and we love you

You will always have our love 

But for holding bodies together

Earthly love is not enough

But we will love you

For love is the best thing

Love is the only thing

Love is the eternal thing

We love you. 

THE GIRLS

 


WHAT ARE WE CARRYING?

Cross Carrying

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

What are we carrying?

That will define us

Be our identity

As other see.

 

What are we carrying?

The good family name

Standing in the community

A prestigious job

A nice car

A good BT address

Church membership

Sound theology

A fish on our lapel

Or a cross around our neck.

 

What kind of cross?

Artistic and beautiful

Silver with jewels

Clean cut silver in perfect symmetry

 

Jesus told us to carry a cross

Not so much around our necks

And not so clean or neat

But bloody

And dehumanising

Like the first becoming last

To serve the last

Into becoming first

Like the cross that Jesus carried

Brutal

Rough 

World changing.

 

What are we carrying?

 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)


BIG RED MACHINE - HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT'S GONNA LAST

How_Long_Do_You_Think_It's_Gonna_Last_by_Big_Red_Machine

As I listen to this surprising treat of my late summer I am imagining Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) sitting at the sound desk. As they sit scheming a sound Vernon pulls his fader down and Dessner pushes his up.

Dessner is usually happy to stand behind Matt Berninger in The National or in the producer chair of Taylor Swift, Sharon Van Etten, Frightened Rabbit, Ben Howard and Lisa Hannigan, all who appear here as well as Fleet Foxes, Anais Mitchell, Ilsey, Naeem, Shara Nova, La Force and This Is The Kit.

Anchored in Dessner and Vernon, Big Red Machine is very much a collective. But on this their second album Dessner has stepped out of the shy shadows, stuck up his fader button and given a deep foundation to the entire piece. He even sings for goodness sake!

There’s a gentle strength coming from Dessner’s piano. Overall it is a thing of beauty with Dessner’s fader up and intriguing enough when Vernon nudges his back up on songs like Renegade or more particularly the sonic experiment of Sabotage.

All of the others invited in play their role. None more perfectly than Anais Mitchell, Taylor Smith and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Peckfold. The songs are reminiscing (Brycie, about Dessner’s brother and The Ghost Of Cincinnati a tour around that city), lamenting (Hutch, about Scottish front man of Frightened Rabbit who we sadly lost a year or two back) and personal introspection (Latter Days). 

All in all How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last has a soothing healing quality and I feel that it will be around for quite a long time indeed. 


THERE WAS ALWAYS FOOTBALL - STOCKMAN'S FIRST TEN YEARS - AS HE REACHES 60

Stockman 4 with ball

(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is part 1 of a 6... as I try to express each decade in a few a words as possible...)

 

Galgorm

28A Maine Park,

Galgorm before

Before it was on Billboards

For its Spas, hotels and International Golf tournaments

Wee narrow streeted Galgorm

With my Grandparents' thatched cottage

Right in the middle of it

Uncle Bert beside

Where I got lunch

Got stung

Got to play football all day long

Got spoiled

Got my values

Got loved.

 

Football

There was always football

With the Cunninghams and Kirkpatricks on the green

With the Jamiesons and McCandlesses up at the garages

Football

George Best with long hair

And Manchester United on my wall

4-1 against Benfica’s Eusebio

European Cup glory

The first match I remember

Before a change

Peer pressured 

To City

Bell, Lee and Summerbee

But mainly Colin Bell.

 

Gracehill Primary

Always football

Before school, at break-time, at lunch-time

Always first picked.

Fast, skilful, eye for goal

BUT not brave enough

Or good enough the day I saw Stephen Penney play

 

Harryville 

The Moat Road at Granny’s

Granda dying young

Finding his paint, 

Stirring it before painting the back wall

And getting a good hiding

Cousin Sharon and Paul and I racing from church

To see new cousin Gregory… and Jason

Deborah with Uncle Bobby and Aunt Shirley from Canada

Church

Harryvlle Presbyterian

Sunday school

BB

Football

Playing with a future international Stephen Penney

Against a future International Nigel Worthington

And winning the League

 

God

“Last question. Do you believe in God?”

As I was watching before the The Big Match came on.

What a question? I surmised

No I don’t, my 7 year old self concluded

And there started

A decade of atheism 

Or 

Was it a new beginning

In conversation with the God that didn’t exist

A surmising of cosmic questions

To find answers in the next decade.

 

Galgorm

Gracehill

Harryville

Stockmans

Kernohans

Reids

And football

Always football.

 

I will be 60 on October 10, 2021 and along with my good friend Fr Martin Magill (60 on Sept 13th) we are having a 60th Big Birthday Fundraise for https://www.embraceni.org

Please consider donating at - https://www.embraceni.org/donations/


BROKEN DOWN... WHO DROVE PAST... WHO WERE OUR GOOD SAMARITANS...

AA

(this was my Thought For The Day on Good Morning Ulster on September 15, 2021... dedicated to our Good Samaritans - Steven Auld, Lesley Emerson, David Fleming, Colin Goodman, Team Hinds and a coupe of strangers)

 

Sunday afternoon was no classic for the Stockmans and yet ended up what might against the odds be a lifetime family memory.

My daughter Jasmine was taking some friends for lunch and broke down on the Saintfield Road. Between Beechill Road and Cairnshill Road. Right at the lights. Lovely spot to spend a few hours.

We have breakdown cover. They’ll sort it. Phoned. Be there at 2.20. No worries. 3 o’clock and we are still enjoying the traffic, still no help. Phone again. You have been recovered they said. You are on your way to Dundalk they said. Not us. Still on Saintfield Road. 

Would you believe that two Kia Rios had gear box trouble. less than a mile apart in the same half hour. Such a freak of coincidence meant that confusion broke out in breakdown services and the two cars became one and somehow we were forgotten! .

In such situations you find out who your Good Samaritans are. A Presbyterian colleague and his wife wound down their window to wave and cheer… and drive on. Must have thought that that the busy intersection was our favourite picnic spot.

But out of the hundreds and hundreds of cars there were indeed a few Good Samaritans. A dear friend brought coffee and a Baptist pastor I hardly knew left his phone number and then brought back a food parcel. A couple of others who we knew and 2 random strangers stopped as well.

None of them could fix a gear box BUT just knowing we were seen was enough to warm our hearts and keep us going. 

In the Bible there is a woman called Hagar who was like an invisible woman heading out into the dessert to escape her situation. She becomes the first person in Scripture to be visited by an angel. After God blessed Hagar she gave the place the name that means 

 “You are the God who sees me,”

Being seen. On Sunday I realised how important that is. Knowing who it is that sees me makes a difference. And when we see other people we can make a difference too. Like those kind few on Sunday afternoon who made what could have been a miserable afternoon bearable. Thank you so much.


SENDING MIGRANTS BACK, RADUCANU'S LESSON AND EMBRACE NI

Daily Express Raducanu

Only a British tabloid!

Alongside a seemingly triumphant headline of MIGRANTS WILL BE TURNED BACK TO FRANCE they have a photograph of a delighted, if disbelieving, Emma Raducanu, the nation’s tennis new hero after her phenomenal US Open victory.

The clue is in the name. Emma is not one of the Hartlepool, Swansea, Derry or Glasgow Raducanus. She is the Toronto born daughter of a Chinese mother and a Romanian father. In the final Raducanu beat Leylah Fernandez a Canadian teenager born in Montreal to a Filipina and Ecuadorian. 

There in one tennis match that screams to everyone paying attention that migration is the way of the world. It always has been. It is the way of history. It is how I ended up here. 

Migration is also the way of the Bible. From Genesis though to the latter stages of the New Testament people are on the move, the people of God are on the move. Jesus was a refugee, on the move, at the very crux of the Salvation History narrative! The Exodus, another movement of migration, was a major storyline too.

It is us understandable that God would understand such human migration and therefore into his advising on how to live life safely with care and compassion would include laws on how we deal with the stranger, coming into our communities or nations. It is always with care - the love of God. 

As a follower of Jesus, and as a minister in a congregation, I am always aware of Jesus example in Matthew 25 where he lays out how you’ll recognise a sheep of his flock. By their welcome to the stranger and meeting the needs of the thirsty and hungry. This is the business that you’ll find Jesus followers, as well as work with the sick, the prisoner and  the naked, being busy about.

This is why Fr Martin Magill and myself decided that we would choose Embrace NI as the NGO to benefit from our Big 60th Birthday Fundraise. 

Embrace NI has been helping the churches across our denominations to care for the migrant, refugee, asylum seeker, stranger for 25 years.

They have an emergency fund which our Fundraise will hopefully healthily replenish BUT they also do an amazing job at resourcing churches both in Biblical teaching and pragmatic application. 

Please check their website https://www.embraceni.org for more details of those Biblical and practical resources and some exciting seminars they are doing. 

And it would bless Fr Martin and my heart if you could feel able to donate to our Big 60th Birthday Fund - https://www.embraceni.org/donations/

There might be an Emma Raducanu out there but be sure there will be another human that God loves preciously who needs the welcome help of Jesus followers rather than being turned back to France without a Jesus welcome.