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November 2021

FITZROY IN ADVENT - START TALKING ABOUT CHRISTMAS

Fitzroy Cadle

photo: Fiona McNeill

 

I am so tired of waiting,

Aren't you,

For the world to become good

And beautiful and kind?

Let us take a knife

And cut the world in two-

And see what worms are eating

At the rind.

 

Stockman declares that you can now talk about Christmas. Five weeks ago I was appalled at the Christmas songs in shops in Reading. Belfast has not been any more righteous. 

I suggested on social media that this is what happens when the population stops going to church. The country doesn’t know when Advent begins. Of course I was more than half joking. Christmas songs in shops in October are all about money not a Christian festival. Check the lyrics! 

Tomorrow is when followers of Jesus across the world start talking about Christmas. It is a season called Advent. A waiting time. Time for spiritual reflection and preparation. A looking forward to the breaking in of light and good news.

So tomorrow (Nov 28,2021) Fitzroy will start that waiting. Our Advent candles will get their first lighting. 

The Langston Hughes poem at the top of this blog will be our recurring literary riff over these next weeks. It is hopeful and yet violates the darkness. 

So what are we waiting to rid ourselves of?

What were the people of God waiting on all the way throughout the Old Testament?

Who are we waiting on?

How will all we learn in that waiting impact the way we are living when the waiting is over?

First up is what we are waiting to cut out. A hungry worm at large and also a hungry worm within. 

Novelist Sue Divin and Beatle George Harrison will add to poet Langston’s commentary on our inner souls and the Scripture will search us, in the dark recesses of our souls. That is what Advent is... waiting… reflecting… cutting open… hoping… receiving… preparing. 


THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO... STING

Sting 3

Sting has never been a man to claim any Christian interest. However, as he shared on a recent Later With… Jools he is interested in the spiritual questions - what are we doing here?

A careful glance across Sting’s catalogue and you can see references to the Scriptures. Even on his last record 57th & 9th he had “Moses driving to his promised land”. There was also a church bell tolling.

The Bridge continues with the Scriptural reference. We get Jonah and the whale and even have a song called The Book Of Numbers. Our bass playing Geordie likes the Old Testament it would seem.

There are also more church bells and even a song called The Bells Of St. Thomas where the bells are like the conscience of a man being seduced in what Sting himself calls a very strange lyric. On Later With… Jools, Sting spoke of the disciple Thomas and the scars of Christ’s hands and feet. No matter how strange these lyrics, listen for the chimes of doubt. In the song, unlike Thomas, the doubts seem healthy.

Most intriguing of all for me is the song Loving You that had me propelled into the Old Testament story of Hosea. This is the tale of a man whose wife commits adultery but he stays true to the vows made in Church. There are so many similarities to Hosea and yet I have no clue as to whether Sting knows the story or was directly inspired by it. The chorus is almost (but not quite) perfect Hosea though:

 

I pray the waters of forgiveness

Will rain down on you and me

Just like newborn babies

In the cradle of a tree

 

And we will walk in righteousness

We will walk in rain and thunder

And what God has joined together here

Let no man put asunder

 

If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is

If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is.

 

Grace. Pure Gospel. I wonder if he knows. 


VACCINATIONS AND MASKS - FREEDOM OR FREEDUMB?

Stocki Vaccinated

An email tonight from the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat that a Christmas reception that I was invited to on Tuesday 7 December was cancelled. Such responsibility in rather high places reminds us that Coronavirus is alive and well and needs careful traversing.

It does not always feel that way. On the street you can sometimes wonder if everything back to normal. “Stay Alert” seems a very old cliche that far too many people have long thrown away.

Then there are those whose freedom is so important that they refuse to wear masks. Even worse there are those moving among us without any vaccinations. 

Freedom eh? I wonder how long it will be until we have protests at government buildings across the UK about the infringement in our freedoms at having to drive at 30mph in the city and 70mph as a national speed limit. How dare the law restrict us! 

Or might smokers having to confine their smoke to the pub garden begin to complain that they have to keep the danger of cancer outside public buildings while those who don’t smoke yet are not vaccinated or wearing masks can bring the danger of Covid 19 into the same public buildings.

The freedom argument only works in an anarchical society. In any democracy with a legal system there are all kinds of laws that restrain our freedoms if they are a danger to the health or life of a fellow citizen. We are even aware of social media rules needed to prevent mental health.

I have heard a new word across social media - “freedumb”. It is defined as a nonsensical and asinine belief that freedom means you can literally do anything you want including violating other peoples’ rights.

Freedom does not mean freedumb as some might like it to. Whether it is my speed limit or no smoking examples the health of others and their right to life supersedes our individual freedoms.

A few weeks ago I preached about the truth setting us free (John 8:32). It would be a terrible exegesis of such a verse to think that Jesus came to let us do anything we want.

Jesus’ truth and freedom was the way of life that humans were intended to live. That is a life that takes responsibility for other human beings and indeed the very planet. It is about loving our neighbour and a denying of self and taking up our cross to live such a way.

I have known more to have caught Covid in these last few weeks than at any other time. We are living through a world wide pandemic. Lives are in constant danger, never mind the trauma for our doctors and nurses and the grief of those who have lost loved ones. Schools are in chaos and people are dying because waiting lists are longer and longer due to the Covid demand in hospitals.

So let live a Jesus inspired freedom to think of others first instead of an anarchic freedumb that endangers loved ones, neighbours and society! 

 

Get vaccinated. 

Wear your mask. 

Wash your hands. 

Stay safe. 

Stay alert. 


MARTYN JOSEPH - THE 1960 INTERVIEW

MJ Fitz

With Martyn Joseph's new record 1960 just released, I took a chance to ask him a few quick questions about how it came together.

 

Martyn, when you come to new album time you have to ask what this time? Did a 60th birthday make that decision easy this time?

Lockdown meant that my usual schedule was de railed and I had time to reflect and ponder something of the journey to this point. Crossing the threshold of 60 years on the planet brought mix emotions and it led to me analysing my life to this point. 

 

So your 60th year was celebrated on social media from the depths of a pandemic. How much of this was written pre-Covid and how much did that influence the mood and content of 1960?

Hardly any of it was written pre Covid. There may have been the odd idea or sketch of a lyric but, no, this was mostly birthed in the months when, for the first time in a very long time, I couldn’t travel and play shows. Id always said I wished I sold enough records to be able to take a break from touring, well, be careful what you wish for! 

 

You are very honest about your foibles and quirks yet there is a deep sense of contentedness in this song cycle. Is that fair observation?

Yeh I think so. In the verses of Born Too Late there is a longing for more and the questions surrounding what might have been. The chorus urges reflective wisdom and  a re evaluation of of your hearts desire.

 

There Is A Field is not the first time that you have channeled Rumi. I discovered this idea in  Colum McCann's amazing book Apeirogon? Have you read that? 

I haven’t but I will now. Great thing about Rumi is you don’t have to pay royalties :)

 

Oh you need to read it. You'll love it.

I so love the utter treat of Witchita Lineman as a hidden track. Tell me you read Dylan Jones's book on that song? 

Oh yeh I did. The first single I bought was Honey Come Back by Glen Campbell and that led me quickly to Witchita Lineman. It's one hell of a song and speaks on many different levels. I’m often surprised by the things it brings to mind as I play it.

 

Has Jimmy Webb always been an influence or has that been more recent?

No he’s been on my mind a long time. There is a solo album of his called Ten Easy Pieces which someone bought for me in the early nineties. It’s just him playing his great catalogue at the piano. I play it often, it's a stunning record.

 

I love Ten Easy Pieces.

You are ever reading books, watching movies and listening to records. Any other influences in these songs?

We Are Made Of Stars was heavily influenced by a book called  Searching For Stars On An Island In Maine by Alan Lightman. Its about the authors description of the tension between science and faith

 

Joni and CSN&Y get name checked in Born Too Late. Are there's the houses in Laurel Canyon that you wish you had been honing your craft in?

Well its a lovely thought but I would have been 11 years old and with nothing to add to the story in that moment. But yeh, it's a thought that I might have missed an era that speaks well to what I do by ten years or so. But you can’t dwell on that too much, you have to get to the chorus!

 

Almost 30 years since you wrote Carried In Sunlight for your Granda. Now it's Shadow Boxing for your dad. Tough times but a beautifully cathartic song for so many of us going through the same. 

Yeh. Carried In Sunlight was a gentle song whereas Shadow Boxing is tougher, less poetic maybe and more angry. And again I’m recalling my journey within the relationship I had with Dad. He wanted me tougher but I became a guitar player:) It’s a joy though when folk say that the song helps. Thats kind of the job you know, letting folk know they are not alone. 

 

The album ends with lashings of hope. You've always been a self confessed realist but you have always relieved us from your gloom by dashes of hope. Did you feel that in Covid times it was more important to emphasise that hope?

For all the devastation it has brought Its been interesting to see the goodwill and hope as we try to get on with our lives and bring comfort to those who’s worlds have been shattered. The reality is that this sort of existence has been ‘life’ for folk in developing countries for many years. I do think there is some more compassion floating around and kindness too. I'm an optimist underneath everything, the glass is half full. So the answer is yes!

 

Read my review of 1960... HERE


ADELE - 30

30 Adele

Straight up, if I wasn’t married with daughters I wouldn’t look twice at an Adele record. Yet, down the years on our Summer Holiday playlists it was essential to have Chasing Pavements, Someone Like You, Skyfall and Rolling in the Deep. 

Rumour Has It too, as it has Ryan Tedder as a co-writer and he has claimed that reading my book on U2 took him out of the Christian ghetto into the mainstream. So Rumour Has It was my feeble grasp at credibility with my kids.

So again, Adele was way down my listening list of new releases coming out the same day as Martyn Joseph, Sting, Robert Plant & Allison Krauss and Christy Moore! 

However, I caught An Audience With Adele on television and started to think that this was an album of more than big ballads and a great voice. Just the briefest listen and I was becoming aware that 30 was way more mature than 19, 21 or 25 as the number suggests it should be.

Not only that but this was an album that could find a pastoral spot. How many people are going through the pain of divorce, the sharp self blame that cuts deep and the child caught in the crossfire. Adele has given us her Blood On The Tracks, less poetic than Dylan’s but deeper emotionally for it.

Cry Out Your Own Heart gives advice for those wrestling with depression:

 

Cry your heart out, it'll clean your face

When you're in doubt, go at your own pace

 

Hold On takes on similar idea but has a Gospel yearning to “hold on” after this:

 

So just hold on, ooh

Let time be patient and (You are still strong)

Let pain be gracious

Love will soon come, baby

If you just hold on

 

Best of all is the meandering I Drink Wine all its verses sung differently that is almost a catalogue of the modern ailments - 

 

“We're in love with the world, but the world just wants to bring us down

By putting ideas in our heads that corrupt the heart somehow”

 

There is almost a yearning for God, for at least the missing piece within us:

 

Why am I obsessin' about the things I can't control?

Why am I seekin' approval from people I don't even know?

In these crazy times, I hope to find somethin' I can cling on to

‘Cause I need some substance in my life, something real, somethin’ that feels true

 

30 is an album that will be with us for a while. Settle in and get used t it. Though not something that I would put on the record player by choice I will probably appreciate it every time a song rolls by. It’ll be on Stocki Family Playlists and that will be fine by me.

What Adele has done is to take her astonishing voice and her big emotional piano ballads and add a dimension of pastoral content that means these songs and 30 need to be taken more seriously than it might be.


BE YOURSELF STEVE

Ken Newell

(My Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on November 23, 2021. The theme for the week was "the most important man in your life" for MO-vember!)

 

My most important man gave me advice in his kitchen when I was 35 that meant that that same kitchen was my kitchen when I was 50.

I had just arrived at Queens University in Belfast as part of the Chaplaincy team and thought I would grab a coffee with ministers of local churches. Ken Newell invited me up to his house for a coffee. Ken was minister of Fitzroy and a big inspiration on my life through his work to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

It is strange because I can remember vividly that short mile and a half journey and sitting in Ken’s kitchen. We didn’t have much time and while making a coffee Ken said, 

“Steve when you get to 50 make sure you know who you are. Most of my peers have been looking over their shoulders at what every else expects of them and most are having an identity crisis because they haven’t a clue who they are.” 

A quick coffee and I was gone… but with that most important advice ringing in my soul.

For the next 15 years I tried to live out Ken’s words. My very favourite verse from the Bible is John 10:10 and not just because my birthday is 10:10. Jesus speaks in that verse about coming to give us “life in all its fulness.” 

For me Ken’s advice helped me realise that life in its fulness would depend on my being me. Not trying to be like others. Me. As God made me. My unique self.

When Ken left as minister of Fitzroy 12 years ago, the church kindly called me to be his successor. If I hadn’t stayed true to Ken’s advice, I don’t think they would have. Ken was different and though I was different than Ken, Fitzroy wanted different and not anyone the same as everybody else.  

So I woke up on my 5oth birthday and had a cup of coffee in Ken’s old kitchen, now ours. This morning’s Pause For Thought comes from the exact place where the thought took place. 

Ken is Still one of the most important men in my life and he gave me the best advice I ever got. Be yourself to the full Steve. Be yourself.


MARTYN JOSEPH - 1960

1960

I used to say that if I wanted anyone to know what I believed about all of life then I would take them to a Martyn Joseph gig. His politics and  spiritual journeying seemed to reflect my own life’s outlook.

In 1960 Martyn is writing and singing my life again. Though born the year before me this is very much an album of reflecting on being 60. Martyn’s accuracy at reflecting my own refections is uncanny. More obvious would be his sadness at being Born Too Late to enjoy Joni and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young but that his dad drove a Renault too… come on!

What we have here is a memoir in songs. Yet it is a memoir of the head and the heart and the soul. There is a lot of vulnerability and honesty. I love the almost prayer-like posture of Trying To Grow where Martyn confesses to feeling at times a fool and a fraud but longs to be transformed. I know the feeling exactly, my friend.

There is also great gratitude of life in Felt So Much and love particularly in Everyman-like song We Are Made Of Stars and In My Arms. Shadowboxing is all about his father’s dementia. Beautiful, poignant and sad. Again I empathise. 

Martyn jokes on stage about writing miserable songs and there certainly is more misery in his body of work than any top 10 pop act of the 21st century but don’t be deceived. 1960 has its share of the shadowy darkness but there is hope in abundance. This is about the changes in life either intentional or terribly thrust open us and how we live and love on through. 

Hope is where it ends. There Is A Field gives Rumi melody. The idea of a field beyond time where all is peace and justice. I learned it from Colum McCann’s novel Apeirogon and then found out that it was an idea that the late Northern Irish and Nobel Peace laureate John Hume loved. Martyn follows it with more hope and light and love on This Light Is Ours.

I get the feeling that a worldwide pandemic sending you into lockdown as you write an album on the first 60 years of your life might have given time for more thoughtful reflection and more care of craft on 1960. In lyric, arrangement and production Joseph gets this one just right.

The quiet nature of the piece beautifully mixing acoustic guitar and piano. The lovely echo vocals on We Are Made Of Stars. The gospel feel of Down to The Well and the Cockburnesque guitar driven rhythm of Under Every Smile keeps it gently shifting. The hidden track cover Witchita Lineman is sublime.

I have been listening to Martyn Joseph albums for over half of his and my lifetime, reviewing the vast majority and for me this one is as perfect as it can get.


SONGS ON VOCATION ( DOING WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE DID)

Maybe Now Baby

Two massive songs. Both ever on the radio. Both with most controversial of grammatical irks. Both favourites when I am realigning myself to my vocation… particularly those irks. 

The Killers song Human has that strange line, “are we human or are we dancer”. Years before it was Deacon Blue’s Real Gone Kid and “Maybe now baby (maybe now baby)/I’ll do what I should have did”. 

Both lines seem a little bit askew. They seem to be breaking grammatical rules. Yet, that is what I was so drawn to poetry for. Even at Primary school I loved the playing with words that coloured them outside the lines of grammar.

Of course they work. Give me another line from those two most popular songs and by two most popular bands. Playing loose with language and you leave memorable lines. 

Best of all, by seeming coincidence, both songs speak to me of vocation and finding the reason that we are here on earth.

The Killers asks the big question. Who are we as human beings? What should we be living for? Just dancing? Or is there something more robust in humanity’s contribution to the planet? 

Deacon Blue make the vocational more personal. I have always seen Real Gone Kid as a revelatory moment for Ricky Ross. He has spoken about it happening during a Lone Justice concert. I can understand that. Maria McKee’s charismatic exuberance always has the possibility of being a conduit to seeing life’s full potential.

“I’ll do what I should have did” irks with some but as I have already said is that freedom of the language that I think poetry gifts us.

To do what I should have has been my main question in life since long before Deacon Blue gave it a mantra and I have been revisiting the question. What should I be doing with my day? What contributions can I make on my world? 

As I creep into my 61st I am reading the new Deacon Blue book To Be Here Someday and looking forward to seeing them play the Ulster Hall. You can be sure that when we are going mad to Real Gone Kid that I’ll be looking down my later years and asking… maybe now baby…


THE NARROW VOICE CALLING

Stockman bearded

Turning 60 has me reflecting and revisiting old poems. These were the diaries of my life for decades. The first two lines of this one refer to coming back from a trip to China and The Philippines in 1990 but I think the talking back to the pharisaical begrudgers might have been from early summer 1992 , the first time that all I believed in was questioned at some committee. 

Thirty years later and I am still committed...

 

Yesterday with me it was summer

Today my autumn leaves are falling

Yesterday was all open conversation 

Today I hear the narrow voice calling

Back on this island that I longed for

That I love with all my heart

Forcing me to be somebody else

From the one who has been apart

Telling me I’m saved by grace

So long as I become like them

But I wouldn’t be a follower of Jesus

If I sought the approval of men

They want me to come to maturity

But I will not be conformed

They want me to calm and settle down

But I love the eye of the storm

They want to put a ring on my finger

But I will stick it in my ear

They want me to say it as it is

But I don’t see it as they want to hear

So reject me like you did with Vincent

The truth will always set me free

To live life and life in all its fulness

Through every God given uniqueness in me.


EVEN THE FRINGES ARE SACRED

DB Live

Guitar comes crashing riffs of life

I read between the strings

Drums keeping beat to my imagination

As Ricky and Lorraine sing

To do what we should’ve did

Vocations being honed out loud

It could be me on that stage

And you in this crowd

Lights are flicking prophetic

Glimpsing the freedoms of rock n roll

The darkness screaming back at me

In the recesses of my soul

Song making me want to fall in love

Songs making me want to cry

Making me want to put the world to rhyme

And never ever die

Conjuring up salvations day

Substantial chords of inspiration

Filled with life in all its fulness

Feet dancing in the revelation

I sense the Creator smiling down

On humanity and everything created

Even the fringes of life are sacred

To be lived and celebrated.