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August 2023

FITZROY SUNDAY SERMON PODCAST - #1

STOCKI PREACHING

We have decided to begin the new Church year with a new Fitzroy Sermon Podcast. Many of you have been asking for something to listen to, in a shower time than having to watch the streamed service.

We start with my first Sunday back after the holidays during which I look at that phrase that I have preached on for 40 years, Jesus question, "Who do you say that I am?". We look at the robustness of Jesus as opposed to the fragility of the Church and Cultural Christianity. We also look at where Jesus spoke these words and how that was in the face of Empire. With the second lectionary reading being Isaiah 51 we look at how imagination permeates out from who Jesus is to how we imagine the Kingdom Of God on earth as it is in heaven.

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LADIES SING THE BOSS - THE SONGS OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

Ladies and the Boss

The summer vacation gives time to listen and for me time to discover albums that I have missed, sometimes going back two or three years. 

Warren Zanes brilliant book, Deliver Me From Nowhere, about Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska had me listening to Springsteen songs and I stumbled somehow across this. What a feast! On the back cover it says, “Nineteen Female Fronted Cover Versions, Bringing a New Perspective to The Bruce Springsteen Songbook”.

“Nineteen”… That’s your money’s worth and maybe for many an education. Bookended by the stalwart names of Patti Smith and Emmylou Harris we have the trendy new kids on the block like Lucy Dacus, Hem, Soccer Mommy and Aoife O’Donovan alongside the more familiar Lucinda Williams, Bettye Lavette and Anna Calvi.

“Bringing a New Perspective”. I love that. A good cover for me is an artist who throws their own hue across an old photograph, respecting the original but bringing out other colours that we have missed.

Thea Gilmore brings stripped back grit to Cover Me; just a woman singing Secret Garden is enough to flip Kerry Hart’s version on its head; the broody moodiness and poplessness of Anna Calvi’s Fire; Cowboy Junkies’ bring their beautiful atmospheric drama to Thunder Road; Bettye Layette ads dollops of weariness to Streets Of Philadelphia; we get a piano shimmy of Shovels and Ropes Johnny 99; Lucy Dacus gets closer to the soul of Dancing In The Dark and the big hit production of the original single; and the Irish tint to Ghost Of Tom Joad by Solas brings it almost home for me!

As I finished Zanes’ book I found myself delving more and more into the songs of and after Nebraska with these perspectives.

 

READ MY REVIEW OF DELIVER ME FROM NOWHERE HERE


WEEK 3 FANTASY LEAGUE - My Surmise

TAA 3

It was one of those awful Fantasy League weeks where as the weekend goes on you realise that it getting worse instead of the better you are hoeing against hope for. 

I should have noticed on Saturday. I heading to a wedding at 3pm and check the scores early on to find that Onana, my keeper, has no points. I check to see if he’s not playing and discover that United have conceded twice in the first four minutes at home to Nottingham Forest. Maybe United cleans sheets should not be hoped for! 

By Sunday afternoon I am needing Berardo Silva and Trent Alexander Arnold to do something spectacular. Before Bernardo can, and he doesn’t, my captain Haaland has doubled his -2 for a missed penalty! That is not so bad as 91% have Erling and most as captain.

Alexander Arnold thought. Booked in the opening minutes for letting go of the ball. Was he meant to hold on to it. Bizarre decision. Even more bizarre was his not being sent off a minute later for what WAS a yellow card offence! From there - nothing!

The Weekend result is that I free fall down my leagues. 

My excuse is that Saturday was the first time `I had watched a match this season. I learned a lot. Gusto? Who is he? £4m! Wow. These little things that cannot be learned on vacation, away from good wifi will hopefully be fixed in the next few weeks.

 

MY LEAGUES

FITZROY LEAGUE.

My daughter Jasmine and her Earps, I Did It Agian remains on top. She had an average week but had enough of a lead. Up further than I fell and into second is Ryan Kee and his Jubious Bandits (his team name referencing his beloved Juba in South Sudan). The Bandits scored 87 points, just short of twice as many as Jasmine. Over half of those were on Friday night. Ryan captained Raheem Sterling as well as scoring with Jackson and clean sheeting with Chilwell. Visionary work. Deserved the points!

Perennial heavy hitters McMullen, Fitch and Orr are waiting to pounce. I have it all to do.

 

FACEBOOK LEAGUE

Again, it is Jasmine. McMullen and James Hume the closest chasers!

 

ONLY AN EXCUSE - HEAD To HEAD

I had a local derby with my mate Tim, who is currently living with us. Tim is a quiet gracious man but I knew he had his heart and soul grinning away that he thumped me from the off. I still had a chance on Sunday but as I hoped for Silva to save me, it came up on the screen that Matty Cash had scored for Villa. WHAATTT?! A Timmy defender not in our equations and then… Cash scores again and my Weekend is Ker Plunk! I mean Matty Cash twice in one game… when!!!

This league looks so exciting. It has everyone nudging for position. In a league of 16, 2nd to 8th all have 6 points with Timmy’s sin against me moving him one ahead on 7pts. No one with 100% records after 3 games. Heavy hitters are finding it tough though Ross Coulter found his feet to defeat Jasmine’s strong start. 

 

ME AGAIN

Big decisions needed to strengthen as I try to strengthen the MBEs… It is that stage where we are all seeing what our teams could be with a few weeks of transfers. Far too early for a WILD CARD though another week like this one and I’ll be under that pressure!


SURMISING FANTASY LEAGUE (AND MY LEAGUES) WEEK 3

TAA

It was one of those awful Fantasy League weeks where as the weekend goes on you realise that it getting worse instead of the better you are hoeing against hope for. 

I should have noticed on Saturday. I heading to a wedding at 3pm and check the scores early on to find that Onana, my keeper, has no points. I check to see if he’s not playing and discover that United have conceded twice in the first four minutes at home to Nottingham Forest. Maybe United cleans sheets should not be hoped for! 

By Sunday afternoon I am needing Berardo Silva and Trent Alexander Arnold to do something spectacular. Before Bernardo can, and he doesn’t, my captain Haaland has doubled his -2 for a missed penalty! That is not so bad as 91% have Erling and most as captain.

Alexander Arnold though. Booked in the opening minutes for letting go of the ball. Was he meant to hold on to it. Bizarre decision but even more bizarre was his not being sent off a minute later for what WAS a yellow card offence! From there - nothing!

The Weekend result is that I free fall down my leagues. 

My excuse is that Saturday was the first time `I had watched a match this season. I learned a lot. Gusto? Who is he? £4m! Wow. These little things that cannot be learned on vacation, away from good wifi will hopefully be fixed in the next few weeks.

 

MY LEAGUES

FITZROY.

My daughter Jasmine and her Earps, I Did It Agian remains on top. She had an average week but had enough of a lead. Up further than I fell and into second is Ryan Kee and his Jubious Bandits (his team name referencing his beloved Juba in South Sudan). The Bandits scored 87 points, just short of twice as many as Jasmine. Over half of those were on Friday night. Ryan captained Raheem Sterling as well as scoring with Jackson and clean sheeting with Chilwell. Visionary work. Deserved the points!

Perennial heavy hitters McMullen, Fitch and Orr are waiting to pounce. I have it all to do.

 

FACEBOOK.

Again, it is Jasmine. McMullen and James Hume the closest chasers!

 

ONLY AN EXCUSE - HEAD To HEAD

I had a local derby with my mate Tim, who is currently living with us. Tim is a quiet gracious man but I knew he had his heart and soul grinning away that he thumped me from the off. I still had a chance on Sunday but as I hoped for Silva to save me, it came up on the screen that Matty Cash had scored for Villa. WHAATTT?! A Timmy defender not in our equations and then… Cash scores again and my Weekend is Ker Plunk! I mean Matty Cash twice in one game… when!!!

This league looks so exciting. It has everyone nudging for position. In a league of 16, 2nd to 8th all have 6 points with Timmy’s sin against me moving him one ahead on 7pts. No one with 100% records after 3 games. Heavy hitters are finding it tough though Ross Coulter found his feet to defeat Jasmine’s strong start. 

 

ME AGAIN

Big decisions needed to strengthen as I try to strengthen the MBEs… It is that stage where we are all seeing what our teams could be with a few weeks of transfers. Far too early for a WILD CARD though another week like this one and I’ll be under that pressure!


60th ANNIVERSARY of MARTIN LUTHER KING'S 'I HAVE A DREAM'

MLK Washington

Today (August 28, 2023) is 60th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have A Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. 2023 being this 60th year was why this year’s 4 Corners Festival back in February had the title Dreams…Visions For Belfast. 

The day takes me back to the 50th Anniversary in 2013 when we were privileged to have political activist, author and speaker Jim Wallis in Fitzroy.

It was hearing that speech on August 23rd 1963, as a fourteen year old boy living in a very white world, that changed Jim’s life. Were it not for that speech Jim might not have been inspiring us to put Jesus on the streets, living the transforming command of Scripture to love our neighbour and giving us the spiritual stamina to decide for hope when all seems hopeless.

Jim used the speech very poignantly. He began by suggesting that it was the anniversary of King’s “I have a complaint” speech! Of course it wasn’t and the difference between a “compliant” and a “dream” is profound. There are many things we can complain about and protest against. 

It is easy to complain but it is in dreaming that people bring about social change. Dreaming is about imagining how change looks. The Bible has told us this a long, long time ago; “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

After Jim spoke we opened the meeting to the floor and John Brewer, then the Professor of Post Conflict Studies at Queen’s University, made us aware that at the very same time as we were listening to Jim there was a meeting at Stormont to celebrate the "I Have A Dream" speech. 

John shared how that seemed a little incongruous with the lack of imagination that we have heard publicly from our politicians over recent years. John then went on to say how refreshing it was to be listening to the hopefulness of Jim’s talk.

Early the next day I was with Jim Wallis for a Breakfast meeting with church, community and political leaders, hosted by the late, and dearly missed, Glenn Jordan at Skainos in East Belfast. I got chatting to the then Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle who had been one of the instigators of that Stormont meeting that John Brewer had referred to.

Chris gave me an alternative perspective. He felt strongly that it was a very appropriate time to gather our political leaders to ponder on King’s speech. He shared some of, what he felt were, the similarities between King’s gathering in Washington and our own current impasse. 

So, I left the breakfast thinking that, though it might have been almost a hypocrisy for our leaders to be remembering such a historical moment of social progress and reconciliation at a time when they were failing to lead us in that way, that maybe a meditation on that speech at this time could only be useful; almost hopeful!

Jim Wallis’s message to us, over three different events in Belfast in 2013, was that we the ordinary people need to give a space and the mandate to our politicians for change. 

President JF Kennedy was not a supporter of King’s Washington gathering. The political leaders in Washington felt that it would need some time to bring the country to the place that King was dreaming of. 

However, what the Washington gathering of 250,000 people did was to give the politicians the encouragement to move faster. 

Jim was inspiring those of us meeting in Fitzroy to be a ground swell of change that would give the necessary collateral to those who met at Stormont to make our future together better! Where does that begin. Well, moving from “I have a complaint” to “I have a dream” is where it starts.

As I have written and spoken, in the decade between, I don’t believe that the peace and prosperity that Jeremiah asked us to pray for will drip down the hill from Stormont. It will have to flow up. It won’t be in our complaints that we move the politicians but by our dreams. This 60th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech will remind us of that today.


BONFIRES - A PRAYER

Bonfires

 

God, toxic fumes fills the air of my city

Sectarian vitriol rising

We pile pallets of hatred upon hatred

And dehumanise

Blackening the smoke off bonfires

As our badness suffocates cultural rights

We incinerate flags

Flags that symbolise nations of people

People all equally loved by you

Jesus sacrificing himself for the world

Every flag

God forgive.

 

And God,

Before we point fingers

In self righteous arrogance

Send your Spirit to search us

To see the toxic vitriol 

And ungodly divisions

Within your Church

Between Churches

Blasphemous schism

God forgive our intolerance

The impoverishment of "love thy neighbour"

The absence of relationship

That Jesus’ good news models

God forgive us.

 

God, start with me

Interrogate

Investigate the Northern Irish DNA in my soul

Thran

Holier than thou infallibility

Devil’s speed to judge, exclude and damn

God, if words could kill

I would need a licence

God forgive.

 

God, be faithful and just to forgive

Give us empathy and compassion

Wisdom to deny self 

Courage to carry our cross

To love our enemies, 

Do good to those who hate us,

Bless those who curse us.

Pray for those who ill treat us

Purify our cultural rights

To be about joy in our celebration

And not fear in the hearts of others 

God forgive us.


FANTASY LEAGUE WEEK 1 - THE SURMISE

Football-league-nf

So the first weekend of Fantasy League is over and I am happy with a very solid start. My daughter Jasmine on the other hand leads almost all of the leagues she is in. apart from the Fitzroy League. More of that.

What to do now is the question? Every year I scream “No Quick Reactions”. Give it a week or two for everything to settle. A look at this week’s stats would have everybody rubbing to sign City’s Rodri. A goal and an assist but he is £5.5 for a reason. He is a defensive midfielder. Mind you he scored in the Champions League Final too.

An injury to John Stones was a big disappointed to many including myself BUT again be careful of quick over reactions. 

I have my own issues. I got “lucky”. Two of my strikers started on the bench but came off that bench to score. I immediately wonder if Brighton’s Ferguson should be changed to team mate Pedro and Callum Wilson should give way to Isak. I am going to show patience and wait and see…

So what is happening across my main 3 Leagues.

 

FITZROY LEAGUE

Stephen Orr has not threatened for a year or two though I always watch him as I rate him highly. A dormant volcano like his precious Arsenal. Orr takes the an early 7 point lead with 91points, a little lucky because his first choice keeper Verbruggen didn’t start for Brighton and Leno his substitute was the highest scoring keeper with 12 points. 

My opinion is that subs should only score half their points because Stephen shouldn’t be awarded for a bad judgement in his first choice team BUT that’s only me and a statistical nightmare!

Just behind Orr’s team, Old Havertz Kai Hard (nice), there is another Orr, his teenage son Isaac in 6th, two Stockies, Jasmine and my fortunate self. As expected John McMullan, perennial winner and Jonny Fitch after an atrocious season are the rest of the Top 6 with steady starts.

 

FACEBOOK PUNTERS

My daughter Jasmine with a team name on the cutting edge of the Women’s World Cup, Earps, I Did It Again, has a 4 point lead with 84 points. An impressive start, she leads Neil Sedgewick and Steve Pointon by 4. 

McMullan, Andrew Patterson and I are another point back and the dangerous Dave Magee just one off us. 

 

ONLY AN EXCUSE HEAD TO HEAD LEAGUE

The head to head league is a whole other skill. I even wondered about playing a different team in this one. The biggest issue for me is do I risk two transfers in one week to lose 4 points. I can kind of justify that in a points league but in head to head those 4 points could be crucial.

Head to Head is also about luck in that you might have the second best score in the league and lose your game having 40 points more than the second worst team who beat the worst team and end up 3 points better than you.

There wasn't much drama in my friend Stuart’s Head To Head. This is a league of 15 teams from Scotland, Nepal, New Zealand, Czech and Northern Ireland. A steady start with wins for all the expected clubs on the statistics for the past few years. However, newcomer Jasmine again sits at the top of the pile, on points difference.

The only shock was Ross, who is usually hard to beat, taking an early defeat, his Sporting Esemi losing to Naveen’s Kathmandu FC 78-77. Ouch! Naveen did have Rodri!!! Ross would have taken the points had he played Chilwell instead of Shaw. These are the breaks.

 

So on wee all move. Changes? Oh they will be needed but I’ll be taking my time to see who plays every week, who gets transferred to who, where the cheap points scorers appear from and will Liverpool’s defence make Alexander-Arnold more valuable than Salah.

Blessed providence in the weekend ahead everyone! 

 


WARREN ZANES - DELIVER ME FROM NOWEHERE

Warren Zanes Nowhere

Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I remember it coming out. Buying it quickly. Loving it particularly. 

You see I was a Bruce fan but before Nebraska only loved The River. I don’t like clutter or heavy sounds. Nebraska I got immediately. Just voice and guitar. Powerful songs. I think I had just watched Badlands on late night TV.

Warren Zanes new book about this amazing record has almost convinced me that it is Springsteen most important albums. 

Zanes has all the qualifications. He was in the Del Fuegos and came across Springsteen as a peer, well a follow musician at least. He has become a great writer, I particularly love his biography of Tom Petty. He is now an academic and that means research and boy has he done the research here. He even gets to go with Springsteen himself into the very bedroom in Colts Neck, New Jersey where Springsteen mumbled the songs into a 4 track recorder.

Zanes gives us everything that we need to think about for the making of Nebraska - Springsteen’s career trajectory at the time, his personal fragility, how the songs came out, where, with what equipment and their failure to be improved upon when taken into a studio. The aftermath is deciphered too - the response to it commercially and by other artists and Springsteen’s next move… oh my what a move.

My favourite moment in the book and therefore in the creation of Nebraska is when Springsteen is in the studio with his producers trying every which way to make these bleak damned moody songs sound better and he releases that the best sounding version of them that he is going to get are the ones captured on a cassette in his shirt pocket. 

I found the few days that I spent in Zanes’ book riveting. It helped me to  lift Nebraska out of Springsteen’s catalogue and begin to really appreciate it for what I probably already knew that it was.

It is a unique and near eccentric recording in the historical time frame of its making. Springsteen had been the future of rock n roll since then journalist and now his manager, Jon Landau, quipped those words in the mid 70s.

Hungry Heart of the previous record The River hit the top 10 and if all had gone in the pop star plan his next record would have blown The Boss into a rock star stratosphere like the one after Nebraska did.

Nebraska’s follow up Born In The USA did just that. Seven singles. MASSIVE! Indeed it was massive with stadium tours filled with 40,000 fans who had never heard of Nebraska.I hated the lead off singles for Born In The USA, Dancing In The Dark and Cover Me. Sure fire hits they were not Bruce Springsteen. 

Nebraska was Bruce Springsteen. How thankful are so many of us that he had the artistic determination to finally release a record that he hadn’t recorded to release. 

Nebraska sits up and begs attention in the timeline of rock n roll. I might have thought that in the back of my mind but how thankful I am that Warren Zanes wrote this book and gave a great album its greatness back.


LUCY CALDWELL - THESE DAYS

These Days

Thank you Lucy Caldwell for making my summer. A good novel often makes my summer… In recent years writers like Colum McCann, Sue Divin and Michelle Gallen have been the provocative and entertaining companions of my lazy days by the sea. 

In 2023 it is Lucy Caldwell. These Days is set in and around the Belfast Blitz. It works its way into and out from one middle class family, the Bells, and follows their very different love stories. 

BUT there is so much more. I listed:

 

The war commentary so well research and sending me off to find out more about 1941 in my home city.

The almost tangible feelings of suspense she creates in bombings and the aftermath of bombings on the streets… 

The feelings of suspense on the lips of kisses and the emotions of love in its fervour (Emma), lack of fervour (Audrey), loss and regret (Florence). 

The deep introspection of the inner heart alongside the universes biggest questions.

There is even room for some challenges about class differences too.

 

Indeed, I found it quite astonishing how much Caldwell had crammed in. The layers of threads she weaves into one short novel. With the most poetic of prose, stunningly beautiful at times, she creates the most convincing characters that you feel that you intimately and sets them in these vivid scenes that you feel that you are in whether the beauty of the Bells garden or the terror of a street just devastated by German incendiaries. 

With all this alive in your imagination, Lucy goes for the questions of heart. There are hard questions about what love really is. There are questions what life is all about and how to use it well. There are questions about how Belfast can ever recover from the trauma of the nights.

It had me looking back at the challenging events of our generation - The Troubles, Covid, Brexit and realising that those 100 years ahead of us had an island dividing that caused a civil war as well as two World Wars and the depression of the 30s. 

I found myself looking up and across our lounge at my wife’s father, Bryan. He lived through this as a 5 year old. Yes, he was on the Great Victoria Station platform as the children are in the book to be sent off to the safety of Portrush. But Bryan lived with his dad at the Harbour where his ad worked and the Germans must have been targeting. 

Bryan speaks of the reinforced bunker under the stairs and getting up the morning after the first night’s bombing to pick up the shrapnel. He remembers little else. I wonder was he just young enough or did his body make sure he didn’t remember. 

Caldwell’s describes the bombings as “something out of Dante” and “some irrefutable sort of hell.” Not easy to forget, even at 5.

Lucy has hooked me in. I want to know more about those nights, their aftermath and then how a city built itself up again. There is always a temptation for a decline into nihilism in these characters yet when the question of asked “How are we going to recover?” 

Mother, Florence Bell, the quiet unobtrusive oracle of the piece answers, “We just have to get through this bit.” “The bigger question,” she says later, “is how to make good use of my life.” For those with ears to hear Lucy Caldwell gives us many a clue to that in my novel of the summer of 2023.


FANTASY LEAGUE EVE

FL 2

It is a big and stressful day for millions of us. Teams need picked for the opening day of a new season of Fantasy League.

Today millions will be working out who they can buy for their £100 million budget. How many big players can we afford. Is Haaland who we know will score just too much money. What are the cheap players that are going to come through? Should I skimp on my defence for big goal scorers? Some seasons defenders do better. After a bad season is Alexander-Arnold worth 8 million. Will new signings fit in quickly? What about players from promoted teams? Do you go for players with easy opening games or get ready for the long haul?

Of course it is a marathon not a sprint and for most Fantasy League managers their teams will bear little resemblance even in October to the team they choose tomorrow evening. 

However, there still be some panic. A good start is better than a bad one though it is amazing how quickly the team at the top of your particular league on Sunday night might drop away within a few weeks.

With one free transfer per week and then every additional transfer per week costing 4 valuable points it is best to have a good steady team at the outset. You do not want to have to play your Wildcard too soon. Is Week 3 too soon!?!

Of course, there is some luck in this game. One of the biggest factors is choosing the right captain every week as their points double. It might be luck that my player scores a hat trick and yours doesn’t score at all. That might happen week after week!

BUT let me say that as I have followed this game for some 15 years and been involved in a Fitzroy league for 10 that the winner at the start of May will have little to do with luck.

As I look at our league I know that reigning champion John will be there as sure as Pep rarely has a trophy less season. Will Alastair compete like he did last season? In my friend's Head To Head league it'll be Stuart, Adela and Ross as sure as our beloved Strathspey Thistle won't win a game in the Highland League! The cream they say always comes to the top. I’ve watched it season after season.

I had an alright season last time BUT ended up winning 3 cups on the last day, two that I didn't know about until hey were won. Like the real game cups whether Carabao, FA or Champions League are tin pot. Luck is needed. Too much depends on freak 90 minute games, some freak injury time minutes. So, it is the league I want. 

So as a religious practice, I am going to start with a solid spine. Big names who have proven themselves, at the core. No new whizz players. They might take time though Haaland only needed a pass from Kevin last season! 

Then who will be the differentials as we call them. The surprise big scorer at 5 million. That usually takes time to know. 

If you can spot those cheap big scorers by tomorrow night then you’ll give yourself a great start! Anthony Elanga or James McAtee anyone?!