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This past week the number of hits on this Soul Surmise blog reached 1 million!!!! I set it up around 15 years ago but didn’t shift over from my Rhythms Of Redemption website until I was coming to Fitzroy in 2009. 

I want to thank everyone who has read even one page. You have allowed me to self indulge myself in what I love. I love writing. It is to me now what golf and football and running were when I was younger and had good knees. It is my leisure. It is my pleasure.

On Soul Surmise I can enjoy my hobby and write about Jesus and peace and social justice and art and sport… and everyone of you give me a reason to write. So thank you for reading. Thank you particularly for reading regularly. Thank you even more for your encouraging feedback. 



The blog was named intentionally. I am using it as a place to surmise, to ponder, to turn thoughts and art over in my head and heart and soul. 



When I moved to Fitzroy I realised that I had no longer the space to write books. Books take time to get into every time you return to the lap top. I realised that a 500 words could be written late at night before bed. The 2010 World Cup was in my beloved South Africa so I decided to do one blog a day for the month. Even after Spain had lifted the Cup I just carried on. Some days I don’t have a new one so I highlight an old one or re-write.



That is where the readers see the blog. I have learned that what I write beside the link will determine what catches your eye. I have watched different headings to the same blog attract hundreds more reads. 

I don’t plug blogs at midnight or before lunch. 11am is the earliest. 2pm is good. 10pm tends to work best and I will try to reblog at that time. I re-blog most of the week on a Sunday night, almost like a digest! Sunday night blogs get so many reads!



I have learned that I can say what I think are very important things and readers might not show any interest. If I say that I got my hair cut or Janice told me off then the reader count will go mad! So I have had to be more personal at times than I would like but if I think I have anything worth reading I would like it read. So, often times I can be sneaky to get your ear!



I only realised recently that I don’t really write album reviews. I usually write about records that I not only like but want to share with those of you that I know like the same music. I am honoured that some of you buy what I recommend. 

When I am surmising I often look for the theological in a record but not always. The lyrics though are still what I enjoy and surmise the most. It is the same when I review books or even less often films.

I also like to review as many local artists as I can because not only have we some amazing artists here in Belfast, Northern Ireland and across the island but I want to highlight it and spread the word.



My greatest satisfaction is when an artist that I have reviewed get back to me and thank me for taking the time to get their work. Reviewing artists that I know makes me nervous because I might get it wrong. It is good when they thank me for getting it right. It's like a nett 65 or a hat trick or a 10 mile PB!


So… thank you. I so appreciate it.



I was saddened to hear of the death of Mike Riddell. Mike had a massive influence on my life, particularly in the late 90s, early 2000s.

It all started with his mystical little book Godzone; A Guide To The Travels Of My Soul. In his poetic prose Mike opened wide the horizons of my soul and endorsed the adventure for God that I needed articulated.

He then helped my mind open from the rigidity of my theological thinking in his book Threshold of the Future - Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West before arriving at Greenbelt to become our friend. 

Mike actually came to my first ever seminar at Greenbelt. Speakers don’t do that. I’ll be honest, it freaked me out but needn’t have as his encouragement was life giving. Mike wanted to be your mate more than he wanted to be a preacher pop star. In fact he might not have known what the latter idea was.

Having opened my soul and mind Mike reached for my heart in his literary work. Insatiable Moon was so profound. I wanted to hide it, it was so scandalous, and then realised that that feeling was the point. 

His play Jerusalem Jerusalem I saw twice. At Greenbelt and then wonderfully in Belfast. This opening up of the life of radical New Zealand poet James K Baxter had me reassessing the revolutionary nature of Jesus' life, tearing down the ivory towers of Church and the real big dangerous real world.

My favourite Mike Riddell moment though happened on a journey home from Greenbelt. I had a full car of punters, sleeping off four days of music, seminars and Tiny Tea Tent conversations. To keep me awake I was listening to recordings of the seminars I had missed.

Mike told a tale that had me reaching all around the front of my car for a piece of paper and a pen to write down the quote at the end of it. I could almost take you to the spot in the road on the far side of Dumfries

Mike spoke of a woman he knew who had a lovely faith but a real drug addiction. She would one day be praying wonderfully at the Prayer meeting and then literally lost in the gutter the next. Then he said “Some might think it is a blasphemy but I believe that God loved her as much in the gutter as at the prayer meeting.” 

This is Riddellesque. Taking what we tidied up as taboos and reclaiming the Gospel within them. Opening Jesus up to his most shocking. The shocking that would have the religious crucify him in any generation. 

For me this line was grace personified. I stole it for a poem. Sam Hill and Phil Baggaley made it a song, Soaked In A Dearer Wine that featured on our record Grace Notes.

"Some may think it's blasphemy

But I believe it's true

God lies there beside you in the gutter

And grace like a mother holds you"

(Listen to the song here)


It is a long time since we have shared a beverage but every time New Zealand was mentioned you were in my thoughts my friend. Thank you so much Mike Riddell.


Philip Titanic

photo: Philip McCrea


Rain rings trash can bells

And what do you know?

My alley becomes a cathedral


I’ve long loved this Bruce Cockburn lyric. The entire song actually. It is from his very first record in 1970. Cockburn asks almost as a prayer:


Oh, Jesus, don't let Toronto

Take my song away


It is as if the city is the bad guy. To find God and everything spiritual we need to get out of the city. 

Declare me guilty. I love those walks on Ballycastle beach that I mention so often in these blogs. There, with the sound of the waves and the wonder of God’s creation all around me, uncluttered I sense God.

Or I remember almost 30 years now, driving through the red stone deserts of Nevada and Arizona and understanding why the apostle Paul took three years in the desert to prepare for his ministry. There was something sacred about it all. Something that you don’t feel as you look down a back alley with black bins over flowing with rubbish.

Bruce Cockburn asks that the trash and traffic wouldn’t take away his song.

Yet, my Canadian songwriting companion has spent the rest of his career finding that the alley can become a cathedral. He finds God’s light so lyrically in some of the world’s darkest places as well as the most ordinary. 

I was drawn back to Cockburn’s work reading Richard Carter’s book The City Is My Monastery. 

Rev Carter was a member of an Anglican religious order in the Solomon Islands who found himself in parish ministry at St Martin-in-the-Fields, smack bang in the middle of London.

I can hear him singing Bruce Cockburn…

Richard’s book is not some memoir of how he came to terms with that shift in vocational call and geographical space. It is a work book (Rowan Williams’ words for it) for how to make the city your monastery. Or as Cockburn put it how to find a cathedral in an alleyway.

Under the headings With Silence, With Service, With Scripture, With Sacrament, With Sharing, With Sabbath, Staying With and When The Me Becomes Us, Richard leads us into how to be a pilgrim, disciple, in the clang and clamour of a city in the 21st century. 

He does so with real spiritual insight and also with lots of beautiful poetry scattered through it. 


Our monastery is here and now

Where you are today

The person you are speaking with

The room you are sitting in

The street where you are walking

The action you are doing now

This is your monastery

This is your prayer

Eternity is now

The city is our monastery.


This is all a good thing when we stop to consider that the Bible is different to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. We do not, as Joni suggests, have to get ourselves back to the garden. The culmination of Scriptures is not that garden back there BUT a garden city. The new world longed for is a a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven with a river running through it.  




With Emperor it is the poetry. Oh yes it is the guitar playing too BUT most of all as a man who loves a good lyric Emperor has drawn me to the literary brilliance of Anthony Toner.

Emperor is a beautiful stop gap in the Anthony Toner catalogue. In August just about exactly a year after his paean to East Belfast, Six Inches Of Water, he has another record of new songs coming but here in-between is a stunning array of Toner’s wares until now recorded with just guitar and voice.

Brian Houston has a soon to be released record in the same vein. How fortunate we are that two of our best local songwriters were thinking the same thing at the same time.

This “Emperor without clothes” exposes the dexterity of Toner’s guitar finger dances. He has been likened to James Taylor and I have preferred Stephen Fearing but a good few times across these songs I have uttered Bruce Cockburn. For those who know Cockburn’s genius and my fandom that is quite the compliment.

Yet, for me the most revealing thing of these songs stripped bare is the poetry. 

I mean Exit Wounds is actually a spoken word. I was moved by the Ink version but here naked and a little slower in delivery it is even more powerful. This crazy scenario of two twelve year boys with one of their fathers and a loaded gun becomes a song of decommissioning in our wee country. 

I was drawn to lines:


“It wasn’t even in a holster,

or any kind of presentation box,

it was just… lying in this drawer,

between his underpants and socks.”


How we lived ordinary lives in the extraordinary circumstances of the Troubles described as a gun among underpants and socks? I love it!

Alphabet is another poem as a song. Written about his father’s dementia, I relate and am then taken on this meandering A to Z:


“When I hug my father/We hold on tight/If he forgets who I am well that’s alright/A is for Alzheimers…” to the final gentle punch, “When you enter this world/It’s what you bring/And it’s what you take with you/After everthing/Z is for zero!”


If possible Anthony’s voice is even warmer than usual and boy can he tell a yarn. Check out The Road To Fivemiletown and Sailortown. Is he our very own Kris Kristofferson?

Everything Toner does is sprinkled with everyday worldly wisdom and a wee rascally wink of his eye. For the latter just feel the impact of:

There’s no sense in looking back -

just ask William Shakespeare and Fleetwood Mac.


I chuckle every time!

That everyday observation and experience that Toner has makes me feel that he knows the Northern Irish psyche. If I was gifted enough I would have written Cousins At Funerals. It is exactly my experience (and, all you Kernohans, we need to do it!): - 


I’m always meeting my cousins at funerals.

We’re always saying we should get together,

but we never do – we never do.

We’re always swapping our telephone numbers,

sharing memories of childhood summers

forever blue, forever blue.


Before the chilling scenario that I have recently come to realise:


Someday you know, this is going to be me and you.


The only negative about Emperor is that there are favourite songs not on here. That says more though about the strength of Toner’s catalogue than this record. It might also warrant a Volume 2. I’m ready already.


Scott and Charlene

I am hearing that Neighbours is coming to an end. The Australian soap opera, that has been going for 37 years, cannot find a Channel to air it.

That was not the case in November 1988 when Scott and Charlene’s wedding was watched by no less than 19.8 million of the British population. 

Of course in real life Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) were number 1 in the UK charts with their duet Especially For You that very same month. Let me make clear that I didn’t buy that! BUT… what clever marketing!

I do confess that in 1988 Neighbours was a linchpin to the rhythm to my day. I was a young assistant minster in First Antrim at the time. I was living in a little flat in Central Park. I would go out and do some visits in the morning and would always be home for lunch during which, I would watch Neighbours. For me it was a strange obsession but it was an obsession.  

As a result of its huge popularity and the amount of it that I was watching it was only a matter of time that it became a constant reference point in my sermons and particularly children’s addresses. I remember my boss, John Dixon, suggesting that I do a book about how to teach the Catechism through Neighbours’ stories!

I cannot remember any of the various scenarios that I drew into children’s addresses and sermons between Harold and Madge and Mrs Mangle and the Robinsons apart from one…

The day after Scott and Carlene’s wedding I was doing an Assembly in Antrim Primary School. When I asked who saw the wedding the day before literally every child’s hand went up like their team had just scored a goal in the Cup Final. Every hand. In unison. 

Now that wedding for me is The Gospel According To… Neighbours. 

If you are old enough and can go back, and many of my congregation told me that they remember the wedding like it was yesterday, then you’ll remember that at the same time of Scott and Charlene’s wedding there was another Neighbours’ wedding. Paul, Scott’s brother, and Gail, Paul’s employee in his hotel, also got married. 

Now, there could not have been two more different marriages. Scott and Charlene were still teens. It was a romance of such wild abandon that before they wed Charlene jumped out of her bedroom window while being grounded for a quick kiss with Scott at the refuse bins. This was LOVE!

Paul and Gail however. Not so much. In order to woo a Japanese investor Paul had to look married and settled down so he asked Gail to marry him to help the business. There was a telling scene where Paul opens the drawer in his office and takes a glance across the contract to see what is expected of him… and her!

It was so easy for me to use these two different relationships to ask about how we see ourselves and God. Is our relationship with God a law keeping contract that we must keep or else? Or is it a relationship of love and adoration? We are excited to be around God.

Jesus said. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14: 15-16)

In Galatians Paul writes about a shift from law to grace in the coming of Jesus - Before the coming of this faith,[j] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3: 23-25)

From there my sermon’s conclusion was simple. Paul and Gail… or Scott and Charlene. Law… or love? 


Josh Adams

As if the result wasn’t enough. Italy beating Six Nations Champions Wales 22-21…

It was the unbelievable manner of the win. Leading for almost an hour it looked like Italy had ran out of steam. Wales began to dominate and as the time reached 78 minutes there was really only one team who would score any more points - Wales.

And then… then Ange Capuozzo picks it up well inside his own half and starts running. It seems that he has taken a wrong option and was running right into an army of Welsh defenders BUT a brilliant side step and he is away. A pass to Edoardo Padovani and he runs in under the posts.

Italy are within a point with a conversion under the post. Paolo Garbisi duly obliges and it has to be said that whatever happens in the rest of the evening, perhaps an Irish Triple Crown, and then maybe a close call between Ireland and France to win the Championship, this moment will probably be the definitive historic moment of the 2022 Six nations. 

Italy without a win in 36 games win. In such drama. With such genius.

As if all that is not enough commentator Jonathan Davies had given Welsh winger Josh Adams the Man of the Match award for what seemed to be his own moment of genius and try that seemed to win the match for Wales.

Just a second too late to give it to the iconic player of the match, perhaps Championship Ange Capuozzo.

Well on a day when genius had one over drama that had one over historic result… there is more…

After the final whistle when Italians are weeping tears of utter joy and Welsh players are hanging their heads in utter dejection, a beautiful moment of sportsmanship. 

Having been presented with his Man Of The Match medal Josh Adams immediately seeks out  Italian hero Ange Capuozzo and hands it to him. That is utter class and is to be celebrated. 


Larkin Between

Here is a little gem for St Patrick's week. Growing up on the Armagh/Monaghan border young Dani Larkin came to my attention last year when her debut album Notes For A Maiden Warrior ended up as my 15th favourite record of 2021.

Larkin is all new folk, clearly in the line for the trad folk songwriter. Her authoritative guitar playing brings John Martyn to mind but she adds that 21st Century freshness. 

The three songs on this EP are from that debut record but deliciously revisited with the Ulster Orchestra. We get the very beautiful Love Part 3, gentler strum, the most gorgeous melody and the sweetest of vocals. Then perhaps the strongest lyric on a song of homecoming Samson and Goliath before finishing with perhaps the most Orchestral The Red (Maca's Return).

It's another showcase for an emerging new talent. 


Podcast 2 photo

The second in our brand new Soul Surmise Podcast is a St Patrick's Day Special.

It is the first of two podcasts where I talk to Brian Houston. Part 2 will be released when he releases his new eponymous record soon.  

This is Part 1 where I talk to him about his album Anam Cara released this week.

Anam Cara is an album steeped in Celtic Spirituality with Uilleann Pipes and the Irish Language. In the podcast I take Brian on a journey from the loyalist Braniel housing estate to a Cree Indian Reservation and back to a new passion for all things Irish. It is quite the story for St. Patrick's. 

And if that is not enough we get two live songs - exclusive versions of Óró sé bheatha abhail and Uisce Beatha (Water of Life).


You can find the Soul Surmise Podcast on:

 iTunes HERE

Spotify HERE







Tender heart

Be gentle my heart

Be tender

It’s mental my heart


There has never been days

Like these

So, please

Be gentle my heart, be tender.


Be defiant my soul

Be open

Be reliant my soul

Ever hopin’

That everybody is heading

To a place

Of grace

So be defiant my soul, be open.


Don’t lie

Or deny

It’s tough

Fix your eye

And rely

On love. 


FL team

"Is this the real life/Or is this just fantasy" - Queen


“I suppose you’ll be happy if Brighton score twice in the second half and beat Liverpool?” says my father-in-law at lunch.

Bryan was 86 this week and like many of his age new tricks don’t come easily. I don’t think he can fathom at all my football fandom schizophrenia when I answer that 

I would like that Bryan because it would give City that extra wee gap at the top of the league but on the other hand I wouldn’t because I would like clean sheets for Van Dijk and Trent Alexander for my Fantasy League. A goal from Salah would help too!

Isn’t that what Fantasy League does for you in these last 10 games of the Premiership season. It is a sporting schizophrenia. In the real world you want this. In Fantasy League you want this.

Can I suggest that it is more difficult as a Manchester City fan. Pep’s squad rotation in the latter stages of the Champions League play havoc with your Fantasy League head and eventually after De Bruyne is rested for more games than you can afford you have to look elsewhere for Fantasy League consistency. As it stands I only have one City player in my Fantasy League team.

Jurgen plays a more consistent game although that is starting to change. Jota and Diaz seem interchangeable just now so Jota had to go. Salah though is in every team sheet. He is also the highest scoring player in Fantasy League and you never have to ask questions about who to captain as he rarely lets you down. He’s scored while I have been typing!

In the old days I would never have had a United player in my Fantasy team. I didn’t want to want Rooney to score a hat-trick to win my Fantasy League head to head. Now that I would sign them there is nobody worth signing!

As it was with United it should now be with City’s main rivals Liverpool but I take my Fantasy League more seriously now and need their points! I probably also like Liverpool more than I ever would United.

It all leaves me with a football schizophrenia. Football is a love that is deeply embedded at an early age. I do not remember a time that I didn’t have a ball at my feet and wasn’t watching football and working out the best players. 

Subbuteo was my first Fantasy League as my mate Frank Kelly and I choose our favourite players across clubs and indeed countries. Frank’s Peter Lorimer to my Colin Bell.   

As a result football results can effect my mood. City win I am a happy boy for days. They lose. Oh my. Don’t look at me. Janice suffers that mood! It is almost the same with Fantasy League. My captain scores, adds an assist and I have a clean sheet or two. Good times. On a week that no one making an impression… Unhappy.

So the next couple of months will know tensions inside of me, between my City fandom and Fantasy League interest. You might understand. Empathise. If you don’t, don’t laugh at me. Pray for Janice!