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September 2022

MARCUS MUMFORD - (self-titled)


Mumford & Sons fans might debate whether the time is right for a Marcus Mumford solo record but the content of (self-titled) tells it own tale. This is not a communal piece of writing though collaborations arrive in its working out. This is the work of a man talking about himself, dealing with his own personal pain, and finding some solace in the trauma. 

This is Marcus Mumford’s Blood On The Tracks. His Blue. No, these songs are not about romantic break up or divorce but they are the art of a human being wearing a damaged heart on his sleeve, baring his very bruised soul.

The opening Cannibal lays it out with the minimalist menace of the music and lyrics that forced the paternal warning etched on the front sleeve. It’s X-rated in lyric and content and feel. One human is preying upon another, using and abusing their preciousness and innocence.

The final track is my favourite in every way. It’s a crafted songwriter song with an early 70’s naked acoustic strum. it has Brandi Carlile singing harmonies. Beautiful. I have never known a reprise of a last song on the first song but How’s chorus had already been sneaked into Cannibal. 

How reaches for the spiritual healing in the release that forgiveness brings. Forgiveness is a controversial word and concept. Do we add to a victim’s trauma by suggesting that they have to forgive or is forgiveness the victim’s key to redemption? Books have and are being written. Mumford believes it is a positive force though asks all the how questions.

In between these two song-ends Marcus Mumford deals with his experience and attempts to make sense of how it has impacted his mental, spiritual, emotional and relational life. He’s honest. You feel his pain and you can hear him reaching deep into his spiritual heritage for grace and hope and new beginnings.

You sense that he has had many companions who have walked with him, helped him face the brokenness and help him walk towards light. He dedicates the record to his wife. The need for others on such a journey is illustrated in the musical collaborations here.

I’ve mentioned the wonderful Brandi Carlile but there is also Clairo, Monica Martin and the genius that is Phoebe Bridgers on my other favourite track Stonecatcher. On this latter Mumford digs into the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and the religious leaders want to stone her. Jesus suggests that he who is perfect should cast the first stone. They drop the stones. Here, Mumford wants to catch the stones thrown in judgement rather than throw them.

(self-titled) is certainly an album worth returning to in every aspect but for those who love to find theology and Bible stories in their songs there are a good few lyrics to get you excited here. 

Time will tell whether (self-titled) is seen as one of the best or most successful albums of 2022. Whatever, I would suggest that it is one of the most important and hopefully most helpful to any who have suffered the abuse that Marcus Mumford has. We should thank him and pray for his on going healing.


Lincoln Highway

“In your time you shall do wrong to others and others shall do wrong unto you. And these opposing wrongs will become your chains. The wrongs you have done unto others will be bound to you in the form of guilt, and the wrongs that others have done to you in the form of indignation. The teachings of Jesus Christ Our Saviour are there to free you from both. To free you from guilt through atonement and from your indignation through forgiveness. Only once you have freed yourself from both of these chains may you begin to live your life with love in your heart and serenity in your step.”

This is the very kind of thing that makes up a Amor Towles novel. Towles uses his work to drop in huge dollops of wisdom for living. I have been using this particular dollop as a way to look back through the spine of the entire novel.

The Lincoln Highway is a very different beast to A Gentleman In Moscow, the Towles novel that gained him much critical acclaim and commercial success. A Gentleman In Moscow is confined to a hotel whereas The Lincoln Highway has, at least in mind, the entire breadth of America from New York to San Francisco. Now that blows the possibilities wide open.

My only spoiler will be that I am not sure about the novel’s title. I guess it gives a sense of that breadth but most of our main characters spend little time on it. Perhaps there will be a Volume 2.

The breadth of Lincoln Highway is not so much about the road itself. The breadth comes in the different kinds of rooms or places where the story works itself out. We are in farm houses, a correction centre, wealthy mansions, a box car, a famous author’s study and a homeless encampment to name a few. These places and the references within takes us into 1950’s America.

If Towles can create locations he is even better at developing characters, characters that you love for their strengths and make you feel nervous in their weaknesses. Towles makes you love most of them and want the best for them but he is very rounded in his understanding of different human psyches, maybe his greatest strength.

I found soft spots in my soul for all the main players, the mainly upstanding Emmett, his wee lovable and gifted brother Billy as well as the wide boy Duchess and his buddy the tender souled Woolly. Sally is the mother figure trying desperately to hold them all together! 

Living in a world where everyone needs to be perfect and the slightest flaw or sin is dragged up and overdosed on social media here is a book that blends humanity’s brokenness and potential for good perfectly or should I say imperfectly. Bible characters like David or Moses or Peter or Paul would fit in well. 

In essence the book is about Sister Agnes’s quotation at the top of the blog. People doing good and bad to each other and getting caught up in consequences or trying to escape them. Towles is kinda an old school novelist with a modern way with his script. Lincoln Highway leans heavily on Professor Abacus Abernathy’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers and Other Intrepid Travelers but other texts and as we have seen the Bible make their mark. Abacus Abernethy actually appears in the story.

All in all I enjoyed Lincoln Highway more than A Gentleman In Moscow. Towles has places to take us and wisdom to share. I will be honest there were moments when I felt we were trudging not feeling any freedom of the open road but by its end there was a sense that I had gotten a good return on my investment. Satisfying.



It was predictable that Northern Ireland soccer team manager Ian Baraclough's head would be dangerously close to the chopping block this morning. 

It was a dismal display from Northern Ireland  in Greece last night. Bleak.  After a wonderful comeback against Kosovo at Windsor Par, at the weekend, hopes were high but that was as lethargic a performance as I have ever seen from a Northern Ireland in a while. Even our quality players like Stevie Davis and Jonny Evans seemed out of sorts.

BUT wait... before we sack Baraclough let us understand this Nations League thing. Or maybe understand how little we understand it! 

This relatively new competition came into the football calendar to give some meaning to friendly matches. If truth be told it was so that in becoming more competitive international games would perhaps gain a bigger TV audience. A competitive match between Northern Ireland and Kosovo might gain more interest than just a friendly. Understood.

What we then need to do is to understand what this does to the development of a team. 

The big two international competitions are the World Cup and the Euros. Both of these are played over two years. Just six years ago Northern Ireland reached the Round 16 of the Euros. It was obvious after that tournament that a rebuild was in order.

Now... this is where the Nations League becomes a distraction. In the pre Nations League days there would have been ample friendlies to blood young players, try different formations, developing and blending a team together. 

I think that Ian Baraclough has used the Nations League to do that because he had no other friendly options and is feeling the grief from fans because suddenly they haven't just lost a friendly to Greece in a time of transition and experimentation but almost got relegated from a division in a tournament that hasn't really caught anyone's imagination.

So, maybe go easy on Baraclough until the real Euros begin. That is where he should be judged.

I will be honest. It doesn't look good. Players like Saville, McCann and Whyte haven't maybe developed as well as we had hoped. Steven Davis cannot have long left and it is hard to see who fills that gap. Jonny Evans too though defensively we seem stronger. Conor Bradley is surely the brightest light in a while.

It is not Ian Baraclough's fault that Northern Irish parents haven't birthed many great footballers in the last 25 years. It might be that there is someone who can get more out of what we might have or not have than Baraclough. However, to make bad results in the Nations League as a reason for change might be wrong, in my surmising.



Fitzroy Sunday

I have been doing a short series on SIN PUSHES AWAY. It from a quotation from Frederick Buechner that we lost earlier in the summer.

Buechner wrote about SIN:

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you're part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.

We have looked at how sin pushes away and personal and national ways and how Jesus good news is a drawing back together through the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tomorrow I want to look at the last wee twist in the tale - "and also the gaps within yourself". What an intriguing idea. For maybe 30 years I've wondered about that. How does that work itself out in our living?

So, tomorrow, we will look at the ways of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 and see where our sin does not just push others away but how it rips us apart inside. This damages us in our mental, spiritual and emotional health.

It has left me surmising in preparation that Aquinas's God shaped hole has a mate in our inner selves - a sin-induced chasm. If the God-shaped hole is filled by God giving us meaning then the sin-induced one needs healing.


Steve's Sermons - HERE ON FITZROY TV

Fitzroy gather at 11am... 



PJ 2

"When a good day comes/Rest and be thankful/for that we’ve got…” and listen to the new collection of songs from PJ Moore & Co from which such a directive comes.

This is a most mature slow burn beauty of a record, light and lush yet somehow at the same time weighty in depth of quality. 

The journalists will flock around the PJ Moore part of the story. Moore was one of the three quiet and often elusive Glasgow men who formed Blue Nile in the early 80s and made records with little commercial hype but with massive critical acclaim. 

Four records from 1983 to 2004 produced 33 songs and very few live gigs. Yet those albums are timeless and loved in copious amounts more than they sold.

So anything Blue Nile is a gasp of joy from fans like me. Here, 18 years later one of the three is releasing a record. Paul Buchanan’s only solo album is ten years ago and I am not aware of anything by Robert Bell. So, you can understand why the press and us fans would concentrate on the Blue Nile link with this.

And for Blue Nile fans like me you’ll not be disappointed. Moore wasn’t a writer in Blue Nile days but his writing is of the finest quality and the material he works from is right off the rich precious Blue Nile seam.

If the origins of When A Good Day Comes are Paul Joseph’s, then his role as enabler in Blue Nile is taken on here by Malcolm Lindsay. Lindsay was there for the early skirmishes of Deacon Blue but became a composer, arranger and producer. You’ll have heard his work across TV drama and documentaries.

Fortuitously Lindsay moved house and found himself Moore’s neighbour. It would seem that before the musical collaboration that Lindsay was a pastoral encourager gently forcing Moore to follow his muse. Knowing Lindsay and his work you could be sure that what he was hearing in Moore’s studio had to be good or he would not have been egging it on. 

The two are a perfect combination and the dreamscape sounds that they have conjured needed a perfect voice singing over the top. If they had asked me I might not have endorsed Mike McKenzie. Yes he was Scottish and yes he won the 2019 BBC Singer Songwriter Award but he was younger, apparently wasn’t aware of Blue Nile’s work! 

I am glad they didn’t ask because McKenzie is perfect and with the three units locked in PJ Moore & Co have made an utterly stunning album that’ll help us in the early days after the lockdown experience we have all been through but in 20 years time won’t need us to link it with that pandemic. 

The songs here are full of the created order and the weather. I am thinking of where might be a best place to get its full effect. Yes, a candle and glass in the late hours but I am thinking of headphones on the beach as the sun sets. Hypnotic. Meditative. Spiritual. It is drenched in the mood for surmising.  

"When a good day comes/Rest and be thankful/for that we’ve got…”   


Reserve Judgement

(this is the script from this morning's Pause For Thought on BBC RADIO 2... the theme was Reserving Judgement... thank you Chris for his permission...)


I should have reserved judgement the first time I met my good friend Chris. When he arrived in our student residence hall that I looked after as a University Chaplain he seemed a little rough around the edges. My Asst Chaplain Lynn and I kept our eye on him. 

About a year later we feared our judgements were correct. We were taking teams of students to Cape Town to help build houses with a well known charity. Chris committed to come and help and then at the first preparation evening Chris went to the pub instead.

Lynn and I called an emergency meeting with him - one to one. We asked him what was he thinking. Was he committed to the team? Either he was in or he wasn’t. He needed to shape up or he was out of the trip.

Chris sorted it. Indeed on that trip to Cape Town he not only proved himself as a brilliant builder but a real team player. We took him back the next time and two years after that we invited Chris onto our Chaplaincy Team as an intern. 

I guess I could end there but I shouldn’t. On that third trip to Cape Town my assistant Lynn shared with me that she and Chris had got very fond of each other. On the next trip they got engaged at the top of table mountain and today they are happily married with 3 lovely daughters. 

I would say that Chris, who we had all been unsure of when he arrived in our community, eventually became the most trustworthy, selfless and caring member of that community, actually marrying the Asst Chaplain.

Thinking about Chris makes me think of that motley crew that hung around Jesus. The Pharisees didn’t reserve their judgement on the disciples calling them gluttons, drunkards and sinners. I mean Peter. Boy was he rough around the edges. Jesus though was reserved in his judgement.

He reserved it not because Peter wasn’t deserving of it – he even betrayed Jesus three times. No, Jesus was reserving judgement because he could see not just who Peter was at a certain moment but who Peter could one day become.

Chris taught me not to look at the now but at the who they might become. He moved from the bad boy to the groom… so I’ll always reserve my judgement.


Peace Day 5

I was saddened by a phone call with Fr Martin Magill this morning. I mentioned how I thought he would be up to his neck in International Peace Day and he replied, "Oh it is good to know that someone knows about it."

International Peace Day is September 21st every year and that followers of Jesus have not taken such a day to their hearts is a sign of wrong priorities. Peace seems to have been demoted to lovely wee idea at the edges of Christian faith when it should up right and centre.

It was a few lines on Over The Rhine’s third Christmas record Blood Oranges In the Snow that torpedoed its way into my soul and shuddered me into reassessing this word, peace. As they sang…


“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 clicked for the first time. 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 this and I have written about that song.

However, this year, as my country’s peace process is unravelling and some of our politicians seem intent in speeding up its coming apart 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.

As my wee country’s politics drowns in political inertia. As we seem as intent on sectarian divisions and graceless soundbites and tweets as we ever have, we need, on International Peace Day, to see afresh this Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all that grace that is intrinsic to the baby born and lacking in our current political climate. Peace. Let's haul it back from the edges... and no better day!


BIG MOMENTS (For Rich Mullins October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997)

Rich 8

I had had the wonderful privilege of hanging out with Rich Mullins in our home in Dublin, 78 Eaton Wood Green an address that became the title of an instrumental on his album A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band. Later there would be times in Windowrock, Arizona and Wichita, Kansas. Finally back here in Ireland at Summer Madness.

He was already a CCM star when I first heard him sing in our front room in Eaton Wood Green. His voice grabbed my attention and then the words of a brand new song:


And the coal trucks come a-runnin'
With their bellies full of coal
And their big wheels a-hummin'
Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman
Who hid the spies who were lookin'
For the land of the milk and the honey


Wow. I was utterly captivated. A poet in the world of Contemporary Christian Music was rare and Rich rose above them all. Next up he sang Here In America:


And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America


Goodness me! I spent the next few years discovering Rich's music and loving those little moments in his company. 

When he was killed on a car crash 25 years ago today I was devastated. We had talked about me booking him for Greenbelt and had agreed that we'd leave it for a year. It would never happen. 

To make sense of it I wrote Big Moments and still stand by it as a poem.


BIG MOMENTS (For Rich Mullins October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997) 

There are big moments of grace
And times when saints come to touch us
Chance meetings that seem so meant to be
Coincidences far too obvious
And I can hear the water falling
The ocean crash on New England’s shore
The brown brick spine of some dirty brown alley
The shaving that fell on the carpenter’s floor
I can feel the hammer dulcimer move me
That voice proclaim truth and love
Giving me glimpses and clues of this life on earth
And inklings of the promise above
Just a speck upon my time line
That the son caught to make shine bright
Such big, big moments in tiny seconds
Leaving me to follow in your traces of light
How I longed to spend more time with you
Maybe someday that time will come
You left a legacy to think on til then
Thoughts to fill my life and then some
Someone said that you know a saint
By how alive they make you feel
Not by how much they show to you
But by how little they conceal
You left us with broken hearts and souls
Our hope is feebly trying to temper it
We lost so much more than skin and bone
You are the world as best as I remember it.


Stocki  Marty and Justin

photo Bernie Brown


It did not seem over profound, as is the style of the man, but Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury preached an awesome sermon at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Give me a minute and we will come to that.

This past February we had the privilege of having Justin Welby at the 4 Corners Festival. I was given the not at all onerous task of entertaining the Archbishop for a few hours.

We called in at the Dock Cafe in the Titanic Quarter. As we did a customer behind us recognised Justin. We were ushered to our reserved seats and had some lunch. As we were leaving I lost himself but when he caught up with me he told me how he had tracked down the customer who came in behind us. The man was struggling with a crisis of faith and Justin had given him a chapter in Luke to reflect on and prayed with him.

We moved on. The 4 Corners Festival Knitting event was taking place in Fitzroy. No one was expecting such a visit but when I walked in with the Archbishop of Canterbury one of my own congregation went as giddy as a 16 year old in 1964 might have gone a Beatle just walked in! She was passed herself. As we left Justin told me that his book about Christmas that Fitzroy had sent all of our congregation during lockdown in 2020 had been what she used through the grief of losing her husband. Hence the excitement of being able to thank him.

We finally reached the 4 Corners Festival Wonderful Wander. At its end while having coffee a former politician wanted to meet the Archbishop. He then thanked him for being a consistent opposition to the Tory government when opposition seemed weak or non existent.

Having finally left the Archbishop to his evening accommodation I surmised on the way home how in just two hours he had without any fuss or contrived effort been a pastor, prophet and evangelist in the most ordinary everyday ways.

I was drawn back to that Saturday afternoon as I surmised his sermon at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Again, in the most ordinary of ways he was pastoral, prophetic and evangelistic. It was a sermon that drew near and reached far... very far!

The Archbishop showed his pastoral sensitivity as he brought his words close to those sitting in the very seats in front of him as he spoke pastorally, praying that God would heal the grief of the Royal Family and fill their void with happy memories.

Looking up and metaphorically across the world, to those world leaders down the Abbey, he then reached as wide as a preacher can to the ends of the earth. Beginning with The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death...” He then pointed out Queen Elizabeth’s radical reign of sacrificial service. Those who serve, "will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten." He wasn't missing and hitting the walls of the Abbey here. Hundreds of heads of state got the preach!

The recurring thread holding it all together was Queen Elizabeth’s faith. Knowing who you follow is crucial suggested Welby. The who for Queen Elizabeth was Jesus, the way, the truth and the life as Prime Minister Liz Truss had just read from John 14. That faith brings hope as the Archbishop put it “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory.”

I surmised as a preacher the opportunity that such a sermon at such a funeral offers. A hurting family mourning a matriarch - be pastoral. The opportunity that so few ever get, world leaders are in the room - be prophetic. The entire world is watching - be missional.

And I was back walking alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury at the 4 Corners Festival in February. Remembering in action what I now heard in words. Powerful.



The mixed up confusion of the Irish story opened another chapter this week when the new King Charles III visited as the country mourned his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

It is agreed in most quarters that Sinn Fein played a public relations blinder. Using all their intentional charm Michelle O’Neill and Alex Maskey came across as King Charles’ new best friends, laughing and joking even at Jeffrey Donaldson’s expense as Jeffrey waited patiently to shake hands of a King he is supposed to be the loyal subject of.

Looking at the colder, more dutiful perhaps, engagements between Unionists and Royalty, there was a sense that Unionism is so out of step with 2022. 

Since Queen Elizabeth’s prophetic visit to Dublin in 2011, there have been many more symbolic gestures where the Royals have given clear indication of their desire for reconciliation in Ireland. This is a seismic statement of forgiveness in spite of the deep pain that they experienced with the loss of their beloved Lord Mountbatten. 

This is an intentional forgiveness. This is a hard thing. The Queen herself said, “It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” Forgiveness needs the strength of God too. Such forgiveness is the central truth of the Gospel. 

This Royal mission has been visible for over a decade at least and yet what surprises me is that Unionists and Loyalists seem to be completely out of step with it. It is one thing having a wonderful gable wall sized mural of our monarch in a Loyalist area. It is quite another thing to be loyal in following her lead, doing as she does. 

That lack of loyalty to the Queen’s agenda is one of the reasons that Unionism seems out of step, out of time. A lack of grace and forgiveness and a continued attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is not where the vast majority of the wider society is at.

If a Border Poll happens, and I am not sure it’ll be soon, then this is where Unionism needs to change. They need to find some of Sinn Fein’s political charm, to find warm engagement with those outside their own cohort that they will need to convince.

Sinn Fein need not cheekily grin and be complacent. There is no question that they did not put a foot wrong during King Charles III's visit and Alex Maskey's generous speech of condolences was a rub your eyes moment of change. Though the charm is noted, and they have reached across more bridges than most Unionists, they have work to do too. I have sat in a University Lecture Theatre and listened to Mary Lou McDonald try to convince Unionists how welcome they will be in a new Ireland and then days later watched her stand by an ‘English Out Of Ireland’ banner. Like murals on walls, actions speak louder than words!

And the big step. Forgiveness? As British Royals reach across the chasm of centuries of killing one another to seek new relationships with genuine gestures of forgiveness can Republicans start forgiving too. There have been more anti British, anti English and anti Colonial moments than Mary Lou’s banner. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are the words that the British Royals, particularly Queen Elizabeth II, have purposely placed into our broken but beautiful place. The best way to honour her legacy would be to be about making her prayers for us all to come true. It might be where both Sinn Fein and Unionists need to find "the power of God's love" to help in any Border Polls!