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May 2023



“… was there any point in being alive without helping one another?”

I love novels that ask questions. Few ask them quite as sharply as Claire Keegan in Small Things Like These.

Keegan sets her beautifully and economically written “long short story” in the small Irish town of New Ross in 1985. Money is hard to come by. There is a thin line between survival and not. 

Our main man Bill Furlong owns a coal business and has a wife and five children to keep happy. He’s economically comfortable but only just and for how long. When the lorry’s engine gives a worrying sound he thinks of all that his family might go without.

Furlong is a good man. He treats his family well. He treats his staff well. He treats his customers well. He is the nice coal man that every small town needs! 

Furlong’s goodness seems to be traced back to a fatherless childhood where his mother is his hero and a Protestant woman of wealth took them in and looked after them. There are a lot of women around Furlong in this narrative. 

I have a friend, the late wonderful songwriter Rich Mullins, who would say that the devil would settle for good.

As the book nears its short end Furlong has a spiritual awakening towards something far superior to good. At the Convent at the edge of town, a Convent that seems to be a foundation under the town as well, he discovers a young teenage girl being treated badly. How could that be? Furlong refrains from Mass as his views of the Church takes a hit. 

Furlong has stumbled upon something kept from many like him. The Magdalene Laundries of which Joni Mitchell sang:

Prostitutes and destitutes

And temptresses like me

Fallen women

Sentenced into dreamless drudgery

Why do they call this heartless place

Our Lady of Charity?

As the crisis of Catholic faith rises for Furlong so his courage to do the right thing. He returns to the Convent to free the young woman and to bring her home.

It is Christmas and as they make their escape. As they walk through town they pass right beside the nativity crib. The Jesus in that crib as a baby would grown up to suggest that those who are connected with God are those who take care of “the least of these”. It would be beyond miracle if “Small Things Like These” is not intended to echo Jesus.

Keegan ends with a powerful epilogue for any time of year:

“Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?”

As I read the final pages of Small Things Like These I couldn’t help hearing a real Christ-like figure, Bill Furlough, preaching from outside the walls of the church, and indeed at the hypocrisy inside it, to call us back to the vocation of our humanity to turn upside what is wrong into what is good. 

That is face of the Christian that should be looking back in the mirror. My friend Rich would suggest that this is better than good, that this being God’s conduit, to help others. 

Furlong, the outsider preacher, is turning over the tables of the hypocritical insiders. Faith is not where we think it should be but in a coal man who has made his decision at whatever cost to stand against injustice because of real faith - “his fear more than outweighed every other feeling but in his fools heart he not only hoped but legitimately believed that they would mange”.


Tony and Christophe



FITZROY (Welcome Area)

JUNE 18th 2023 @7pm 


We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tony Macauley whose latest publication Kill The Devil, written with Juvens Nsabimana, is causing a stir and activist Christophe Mbonyingabo who is CEO of CARSA working with reconciliation across Rwanda.

I will chat to Tony about his, and Juvens, gripping love story set in Rwanda and then Tony will chat to Christophe about his current work in peace building. 

Be expected to be inspired towards reconciliation in our place when you hear the power of forgiveness in post genocide Rwanda. 



Seven Psalms

What is it with Seven Psalms. Last year Nick Cave released a record of that name and now it is Paul Simon’s turn. Neither artist writing Psalms particularly shocked me. Watching how interested both had become in God things over the years, it was more of a pleasant surprise.

Paul Simon’s So Beautiful So What record from 2011 had a lot of God on it. Of that record he said, "I wondered whether there was a subconscious theme that I was tapping into. I have Christian symbols and imagery before in songs. It’s very strongly evocative, so it may just be coincidence—but it may not be.”

On Seven Psalms God is not in the subconscious. This is a man in his 80s sharing his ruminations of life and death and what after. It begins with that question on The Lord:


I've been thinking about the great migration

Noon and night they leave the flock

And I imagine their destination

Meadow grass, jagged rock


And end on that same question on Wait:


Life is a meteor

Lеt your eyes roam

Heavеn is beautiful

It's almost like home

Children! get ready

It's time to come home



In between and Simon is asking seeking God:


The Lord is my engineer

The Lord is the earth I ride on

The Lord is the face in the atmosphere

The path I slip and I slide on healing:


… and healing


The garden keeps a rose and a thorn

And once the choice is made

All that's left is

Mending what was torn

Love is like a braid


… and resolution, like sorting out the affairs of his soul:


Yesterday's boy is gone

Driving through darkness

Searching for

Your forgiveness


I’ve been amazed at the books and songs seeking out resolution to relationships with parents, family, actions we’ve done:


Gonna carry my grievances

Down to the shore

Wash them away in the tumbling tide


The Psalms get their biggest connection in The Sacred Harp. Here Simon sees the power of music: 


The sacred harp

That David played to make his

Songs of praise

We long to hear those strings

That set his heart ablaze


The ringing strings

The thought that God turns music

Into bliss…


Seven Psalms is pretty much this. It is a genius songwriter, making his guitar his soul mate. There is no catchy 59th Street Bridge Song here. Paul Simon has always been able to make his guitar playing artistic and he does that here without many grace notes. It is as stark as a sacred retreat but then that is what it is. Spiritually deep.


Michael Magee

I am gloriously fed up repeating myself - here is another brilliant new novelist coming out of my wee place. 

Michael Magee has gifted us a direct journey into the heart of a community and the soul of one young man’s attempt to get over the hurdles in his way to a life fulfilled. 

Magee has a great geographical understanding of Belfast. Well, actually West Belfast, South Belfast and the city centre. I love books that hint at places I know. Magee has you on street corners, outside cafes, sitting on steps and inside shops that you know. 

He has also a deep understand of the psyche of a West Belfast man in his twenties. All the hopes and the plethora of issues that dash those hopes are navigated with raw honesty. 

Written through the soul of Sean whose side we are on from the start. Whether he decks that South Belfast student or not we feel that he’s a good one undeserving of his 200 hours of community service.

There begins a tale of the class division in Belfast, mostly lost beneath the sectarian one. As someone who helps organise the 4 Corners Festival I am so aware that there could be an Andy in East Belfast totally relating to Sean’s danger of getting stuck but no one in South Belfast might understand.

So, Sean, after returning with his degree from Liverpool is trying to escape home, at least the drugs and drink and thieving and poverty and trauma both personal and societal past. In a game of Snakes and Ladders we watch in hope and despair.

Magee is a gifted writer, every character is believable and he has Belfast to a tee. The narrative is gripping and the gift for the reader is that he takes us into homes and bars and lives that we might never get into. We feel how people are struggling with just a mile or two from where we read it. He also challenges that classism that the Good Friday Agreement has widened the gap between those who have and those have not. 

In the end it comes down to choices. Choices that might seem like a betrayal of your family and friends. A choice to put yourself in an environment that might set you free rather than keep you captive. If Sean had been 10 years older he would have been quoting Oasis - “Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say/Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay.”  

A stunning debut!


O Sun O Moon

All our songwriting heroes have aged. Bruce Cockburn like the rest. When I heard that he was releasing a new record I was cautious. Could it reach Cockburn standards? 

I took that attitude into a first listening and was thinking that it was not obviously as good as Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaw or Humans but the guitar playing was great, the arrangements were great, the melodies have ear candy within, the lyrics were depth charges and even Bruce’s voice sounded more than ok. On Into The Now there’s even a slight Kristofferson rasp.

So, a second listen and I was asking myself why I was being so defensive. O Sun O Moon is an absolutely fabulous record. At the moment it is up there with those two already mentioned albums as one of my all time Cockburn favourites.

He tells us from the off (On A Roll):


Time takes its toll

But in my soul

I’m on a roll


Boy he is. Next up is some Biblical exegesis for authentic Jesus’ discipleship (Orders):


The one who lets his demons win 

The one we think we’re better than 

A challenge great - as I recall 

Our orders said to love them all 


Preach it brother. Then on Us All he prays for us:


I pray we not fear to love

I pray we be free of judgement and shame

Open the vein, let kindness rain

O’er us all


Don’t forget Bruce has that prophetic side. On To Keep The World We Know he is fighting for planet earth:


Waters rise, grassland dries

Mother Earth, she weeps

Willful ignorance and greed

Prevail while reason sleeps


It is Cockburn doing what he does but the arrangements, the playing. Kristofferson echoes are back on When the Spirit Walks In The Room with its stunning “You’re a thread upon the loom/When the Spirit Walks In The Room”.

Cockburn is certainly gazing for the in coming stage. Nowhere more so than on the spoke word title track:


O sun by day o moon by night

Light my way so I get this right

And if that sun and moon don’t shine

Heaven guide these feet of mine

To Glory


It all closes with When You Arrive:


And the dead shall sing

To the living and the semi-alive

Bells will ring when you arrive


O Sun O Moon is a most mature work of introspective spiritual adventure taking all of Cockburn’s strengths and blending them in the most potent gentleness. It’s a gift. It is beyond expectation. It is up there with his very best! 



Lord you tell us to pray for our leaders

So we pray for our newly elected Councillors

Lord give them wisdom



The desire to be servants

And the ability to compromise for the good of ALL

We pray that they would build peace

And Justice

And prosperous city for ALL

We pray to for ourselves

That we would continually pray for our Councillors

And then make ourselves available 

To answer our prayers

By partnering with our Councillors

For a better country for ALL.




22.5.23 - Hume

There was a lot of talk about the Good Friday Agreement a few weeks ago. Maybe too much talk. For me the more important day was May 22nd 1998. This was the day that the people of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would vote on the agreement. A Referendum on whether we agreed or disagreed with our politicians.

Leading up to the vote, some of the anti-agreement parties had been trying to convince the people that this was a sell-out to terrorism and to vote no. Some of the strongest arguments came from evangelical Christians who supposedly followed a Bible that teaches them “to make every effort to live at peace with all men” (Heb. 12:14) and to “love their enemies and do good to those who persecute you” (Luke 6:27, 28).

Things were touch and go as to how the Referendum might go when something significant happened. Two young men Conal McDevitt and David Kerr worked for the two major political leaders John Hume and David Trimble. They came up with a cunning imaginative and ambitious idea, a last minute grab for the media headlines. 

What if U2 and Northern Irish band Ash did a concert for peace in Belfast. It was quickly brought together and one of the most iconic photographs of that peace process is Bono holding up the hands of Hume and Trimble, much like Bob Marley did with Jamaican politicians Michael Manley and opponent Edward Seaga in 1978.  

I remember sitting at home watching the news and and suddenly the tears were tripping me. On my TV screen being beamed across the world was Bono, Hume and Trimble. It this tangible hope. 

On May 22nd 94% in the Republic of Ireland and 71% in Northern Ireland voted for that Agreement. In her balanced and informative book Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People, Susan McKay describes the two men holding Bono’s hands: “They looked awkward, but it was a winning gesture which had revived a floundering campaign.” 

I think back on that night today. It is hard to not conclude that the 29% who voted against it then is still the 29% holding us back now. Yet, how we have moved forward. Northern Ireland in most places is different than it was 25 years ago today. We need to build on that peace. It needs to be more than political it needs to become societal. 

We also need to invest in education and jobs in the difficult working class areas that will feel left behind in what other might call a peace dividend. We need to build on the prosperity of the entire country. 

So let us stay committed to that decision we made. No one said that it would be easy. Many had to give up their hopes of justice as well as the heartache of murdered loved ones. Political positions had to be compromised. Some lost their political careers. Peace on an island at conflict for centuries didn’t come cheap or easy.

I commit to that mark I made.



(A short story written for Fitzroy's Fabula event...)


Toronto. It has almost been a mythical place for as long as I remember. My Uncle Bobby, my mum’s brother, moved there from Ballymena in the mid 50s. Our homes had more than the average numbers of maple leafs. Uncle Bobby was missed and loved and a little legendary as a result.

When Bob and Shirley and cousin Deborah visited Ireland in the summer of 1978 I put my spoke in.

Very quickly it is July 1979. I was a skinny 17 year old. Long disheveled hair I was just finished lower 6th. I wanted to be an adventurer. Uncle Bobby was the only member of our family who’d left Ballymena, even up until today. 

But I was pretty naive and innocent. The furthest I had been was Newquay and it was hardly big city. I did though want to see Canada and arrived on July 1st for two months. My Granny was with me. My mum would arrive at the end of July.

It was needless to say, a fabulous time. The sun was always shining. It was hot. My cousin Deborah only 10 at the time would go to Swimming Lessons in Glen Watford and I would go to the vending machine with my quarters and grab a Grape… Grape I say… Fanta. They even opened differently than ours.

I’d then sit and read Rolling Stone on the grass. It was there that I read that Bob Dylan had become a Christian and was working on a record called Slow Train Coming. I had just become a Christian a couple of months ago and this sounded so cool. Everything about Toronto was cool.

We’d visit other family members, Uncle Bobby would take me to local football matches where all the accents were Scottish and Irish and I’d spend hours in the basement playing pool or watching trying to figure out how to play Baseball. 

One night Aunt Shirley said, “pAss the salt Robert Stevenson”. I wondered how she knew my name and went to grab the salt but my Uncle got to it first and I learned for the first time that I was named after him. 

Aunt Shirley was like a mum for that first month. She was the real Canadian. She had the accent - all out and aboot. From Wiarton out in rural Ontario  she held those rural values, the best of them and she carried them gently. She’d have been giving me grief about this hair with a wee Shirley grace filled chortle.

I never asked Aunt Shirley what she was up to when she leaned in and pulled out as much courage as she could find inside me. I look back and see it as a dare or a tactic or something even smarter.

She was a small town girl. When she arrived in Toronto at the end of the 50s she must have had to find courage to live in that new environment. She met a small town boy and made a wonderful life. She lost my Uncle Bobby to a work accident in 1993 and showed great courage to deal with it.

Maybe she just wanted to step on my 17 year old arrogance that a month living with me at that time might have annoyed. Looking back I could understand that. Maybe she just thought you are 17. You’re running around with your Granny, your aunt and your ma. Grow up. 

I like to think she was being more strategic. That she was mothering me. Eeking out a courage that she knew was there but I’d never looked deep enough to find.  

It was shortly after my mum arrived. My cheeky arrogance had been suggesting that I might head into the city on my own some time. Now, as much as I wished I could do this did I really want to do it. Did I actually have the courage

Anyway, not long after my mum arrived, maybe within hours, Aunt Shirley drops me in it, “Margaret, Steve says he’s going to go into town on his own.” She had me. I remember something in my gut. Oh no! I’m not sure that I want to… but I now have to. I had a couple of big sleepless nights and then… 

I took a hearty breakfast and headed out alone, down Pitfield Road and round the corner to the Midland train station. There were a few boys got on the same carriage. My age but way more mature. It was the first time I has seen jeans with holes in the knee. I put that idea behind my ear and concentrated on when to get off, taking in some of the scenery on the 25 minutes into Bloor/Yunge station.

When I got out of the station I had the best day of my young life. In and out of Sam The Record Man’s HMV beside it, the Eaton Centre with its Ballymena connections across the road. I stocked up on vinyl. I remember a Rory Gallagher, George Harrison, Steve Forbert and a Lynyrd Skynyrd. Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps though I think it was on another trip in the next week. Check me out!

I had one other sweet surprise. About six months before I was wrestling with a God that I didn’t think existed. So I looked at my CD rack. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors was on the front. So I said, Ok God take the flames off that album cover. 

Of course he didn’t but there in Sam The Record Man in very late July was that same record without the flames. It seems that after the band were in a plane crash the record company took the flames off… in the American version. That was a wee lesson in how miracles might work. 

My aunt Shirley passed away three weeks ago. As I thanked God for her life. I thanked her for being my Canadian mum, so many times, but particularly for the courage she dragged out of that wee boy… 

I wish I could say that that was that. The birth of courageous Steve. However 10 years later, almost to the day, I arrived at Liverpool Street Station in London. My first visit. All Toronto courage was gone. I climbed the stairs and looked out on London and quickly scampered back to safety. I sat there until a girl called Janice came and led me out. She’s been my courage ever since.


Magic Rings

Forty four years ago this weekend I made a life changing decision to follow Jesus. It has been quite the wild ride of a life in all its fulness. Here, I Surmise why I got involved.

I didn’t want my soul to be saved from hell as much as I wanted to know God. God. Imagine that. God. I couldn’t. As David Gray said, probably not about God, “we are trying to spell what the wind can’t explain”.

The first step of following Jesus for me was a leap into the biggest adventure that I could imagine a human can take. I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from Richard Bach’s short novel, wanting to fly like no other gull has ever flown… or human being had ever lived. I was seeking that “life in all its fulness” that Jesus invited us into in John 10:10.

As a seventeen year old I felt like Digory in CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. In that, the first novel chronologically in the Narnia Chronicles but not first published, Digory and Polly find magic rings that bring them into Narnia through a dank pool. Polly wants to go back to safety but Digory says, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there.”

I believed that Jesus life and cross and resurrection was the miraculous act of God that had tossed me into this other world. I wanted to spend my life looking. I was mad keen to jump headlong into mystery and vastness. 

It feels that what then happened was that they handed me a couple of books. Here’s all you need to know in this tome of systematic theology. God confined to a few hundred pages! Here’s another one about what to do and not to do. They told me it was very clearcut. Biblical they called it. There was no room for questions or doubts. No room for mystery for that matter. Adventure and risk seemed frowned upon. 

Forty four years later and I am still seeking more. More about God than was in the books. I am still seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into what the Bible really does say. I am mad keen to find out what it sounded like to those who wrote it and heard it for the first time. I want to know where our cultural lenses over 2000 years have shaped it, perhaps wrongly. I find a lot of wrongly!

Oh I know that my cultural glasses will make errors too. I am aware that I might shift the swing of the pendulum too far. But I am not into this for some safe sitting around at the corner of the stagnant pool talking about the colour of the magic ring or I how held it to get in. I want to step out beyond. I am up for the daily dynamic of the dilemma that is discipleship in a mad crazy 21st century world, not simple do this and do that following.

So, in this week that I have been given to reflect and on forty four years of following, I am reading about the culture of Jesus day, about how the Bible works and how to preach better. The preaching is why I was born, my reason to be magiced the rings, my place in this vast ginormous kingdom that I am still exploring daily. 

None of the books might be deemed to be safe in certain theological jurisdictions but as CS Lewis also said, “Aslan is not safe but he is good.” Aslan, he also said, was on the move and I am up for the chasing after!


Luka Bloom Fitz

It was utterly beautiful. 

With the front of Fitzroy decked out in over 100 candles, Luka Bloom appeared with his Lowden guitar, that voice hewn out of the Bog of Allen, or close by, and these amazing songs and instrumentals. 

My wife Janice and I had just spent 3 days driving around the Wild Atlantic Way in Donegal. Luka’s songs of place, mainly Irish place were a perfect way for our heads and hearts and souls to remain there for another couple of hours.

When I think of Luka Bloom I think of a songwriter of place. There are mountains and rivers and oceans and sands. Nobody else could make being a bog man so full of life.

It’s the poetry. Luka tells us of an English teacher who encouraged him to write his first song at 16. Wave To The Shore is the title track of his new re-recorded career overview and you cannot help but wonder what a high bar the young Barry Moore was setting himself.

He tells another story of being at his sister’s house and a neighbour asking him what he was writing about. After uttering something she responded, “Ah the beauty of every day things”. What a title to another great lyrical song set in God’s favourite piece of earth in the west of Ireland. 

Not that Luka Bloom is out there somewhere in County Clare hiding from the world. He wrestles that guitar, he says, like therapy. 

I Am Not At War With Anyone, his response to the Iraq war is rewritten for Ukraine. 

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Light That Shines Within You. Was written when three nuns asked him to write a hopeful song for tough times. As the crowd turned it into a hymn with the candle light effect this was spiritual.

City Of Chicago was a Christy Moore song long before it was a Luka Bloom one. Luka shared that it was written when he left another brother to the plane for a new life in America. It made him think of those leaving in the famine. He wrote this song in half an hour and when his other, song collecting, brother asked him if he had any new songs… unconvinced about it Luka gave this one to Christy who sings it every night! When the crowd sang on it tonight Luka seemed more than convinced and a little moved.

The Man Is Alive moved me. I used this song and a few Psalms in the last ten minutes of my father’s life. That Luka was only 18 months old when he lost his dad is another story. Then he has us in Vancouver, a favourite city of ours.

I cannot let it go without mentioning that here on our anniversary, just a few hours in from Donegal, Luka dedicated Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love to Janice and I. Complete. What a night! What a catalogue of songs. 

The utter utter beauty of everyday songs.