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November 2023

HOW I'M SAVING THE PLANET

Sun sets over golf

(This is the script of my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on the Owain Wyn Evans show on November 29, 2023. The Theme was How I'm Saving Planet Earth...)

 

My wife Janice’s Grandad was a sea captain and later in life the Harbour Master here in Belfast. His hobby was building little model ships. These were the days before Air Fix. These models needed more skill… and love.

Captain Gordon has left us hundreds of such models. Small to quite big. The detail is staggering.

Needless to say his grand children, all now in their 50’s, love them. They all have them on show. 

They are also carefully cared for. I took one of ours to show the children in church and I carried it like it was the most valuable thing in all there world.

I like to think of the earth as God’s art. I am fascinated that, maybe before time, God imagined. Colours for instance. Green. Once there was no green. No blue. God imagined. 

I sometimes think of my favourite scene in the world. Ballycastle beach. Walking out towards Fairhead, with Scotland beyond, I look to my right and there’s the lush green of the golf course. To my left the deep blue of the sea. In the middle Janice, Jed our dog and me on a narrow stretch of golden sand. 

At sunset the sky goes all kinds of colours and I ask how God can paint such beauty, different every night, with the same piece of sky and the same time of day.

For me as a believer, the planet is God’s art. In prayer I call him Father. I love my Father’s creation. Like those model ships I carry it carefully.

BUT do I, this week theme is like a sermon that cuts through my soul. What am I doing to save God’s art. Far too little.

BUT as we wait for COP 28 to help save our earth I am delighted that this very week The 4 Corners Festival of which I am a co-chair have declared that we will be carbon neutral. 

We have worked out the footprint of last years festival and will invest in trees to offset it. Surprisingly it didn’t cost us that much but it would cost the earth much more if we didn’t. 

So I am now looking at holidays and other ventures that I can offset to sustain my Father’s masterpiece. 


STANDING UP FOR BOB DYLAN LIVE AT BUDOKAN

Bob Budokan

To the tune of an Ulster Rugby crowd chant I want to shout “Stand up for The Budokan”. Bob Dylan’s live album Live At Budokan album from back in 1978 is getting re-assessed or re-trashed as a box set called The Complete Budokan which has just been released. I want to defend it because of how crucial it was in my personal discovery of Bob Dylan.

I wasn’t a Bob fan in 1978 though I was on the cusp. Baby Stop Crying from 1978’s Street Legal was a favourite song and after my intrigue about Hurricane from 1975’s Desire, showcased in my favourite TV music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. 

I remember the fuss about the Budokan record. Supposed to be a Japan only release in August 1978, a guy in school (Frank Delargy me thinks!) had bought it at a ridiculous price on import only to be rather annoyed at a world wide release in 1979 that we could all afford. 

Just a few months later Slow Train Coming arrived and Bob had come to a Christian faith, almost at the exact same time as I had too. That common faith caused me to play that one until I had acquired the taste for Dylan’s voice and set off in looking back across the 17 years of records that I had missed.

In that time of research Live at Budokan was a gift. It allowed me to grab almost 22 songs from every era of Bob on one double album.

More than that the very accessible way that Dylan arranged those songs at Budokan, made them easier for a young fella to hear them rather than say the much raw and rougher edged Hard Rain live album from 1976. 

I am not sure what Bob was wanting to do with this particular line up. The fiddle had encroached towards centre stage on The previous Rolling Thunder tour. Now, though the fiddle stayed, Bob had added flutes and particularly a saxophone. 

If 1978 Dylan fans were unsettled by this I wasn’t. As a Moody Blues and at this stage Horslips fan I was more than up for a few flute riffs. The saxophone though was put Bruce Springsteen. The Big Man Clarence Clemons was Springsteen’s foil and a very big presence on the cover of that iconic 70s record Born To Run.  Why shouldn’t Dylan give it a try. 

Reggae versions too. Again I was used to such arrangements. Bob Marley had become another of the rock icons of the 70s. Eric Clapton had covered Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff and even done his own reggae version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door that Dylan repeats here.

Above all of this. As Bob looks back and around for his Budokan muse so too he looks forward. The female Gospel vocals would become the major feature of the next few years of Dylan’s live shows. Where he is with Jesus at Budokan is anyone’s guess but the Gospel singers are ready!

So, why shouldn’t Bob Dylan bring a plethora of contemporary ideas into a career known for its reinvention. For me there is a hint of musical snobbery in those who dismiss these Budokan concerts.

So, I was thrilled that there would be a box set of the complete Budokan. Now we can hear 1978 versions of songs like Ramona, I Threw It All Away, The Man In Me and Tomorrow Is A Long Time as well as rarities Repossession Blues and Love Her With Feeling 

With such releases I quickly glance across the track listings and the prices to see which I will purchase. As I am currently buying vinyl I am going to actually buy the double vinyl Another Budokan 1978 at £35 as I think £190 is utter madness for 4 CDs especially when fans have almost two of them. 

In the next few weeks I am looking forward to listening to 1978 Bob Dylan. I hope at times it will take me back to my teens and those early Bob loving days but also back into that Dylan catalogue in which I am always discovering.  


CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY - MY SERMON PODCAST

Christ The King 2

"The blessed ones are those who have seen a King who is not like the kings of this world."

This quotation from  New Testament Professor Carla Works was the key refrain in my sermon on Christ The King Sunday.

I shared my own obsession about Jesus that was not instigated by a fear of any afterlife our any burden I was feeling from sin as a relatively innocent 17 year old.

I shared how as a 25 year old I would have concentrated I=on the judgement side of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats but now saw it as a reminder about the different kind of King Jesus was.

We follow the King of the Manger, the Donkey, the Towel and the Cross. Jesus is a King who is not like any of the Kings of this world... and he invited us to follow him.

Hear the entire sermon here:

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FITZROY PRAYERS ON CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY

Christ The King Sunday

(Prayer prayed in Fitzroy on Christ The King Sunday, November 26, 2023)

 

God

On Christ The King Sunday

We worship Jesus as our King

We remember those words 

From his own prayer

“Thy Kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth

As it is in heaven”.

 

So God, we pray for Christ The King’s reign

His kingdom and will

 

In our parliaments

In our cabinet offices

In our war rooms

In our refugee camps

And hostage prisons

 

In our cities

Our towns

Our villages

On our streets

Up our alleyways

Across our housing estates

Along our Avenues

And into our cul-de-sacs

 

In our factories

In our shopping malls

In our school

And Universities

Our call Centres

 

In our gyms

Our golf clubs

Our sports pitches

And hotels and bars

 

In our homes

In our families

Our Residential homes

Our homeless shelters

In our Churches 

 

God, we long for Christ The King’s will

Interrupting

Transforming

Shining light

Holding out hope

 

So, King Jesus show us a vision

Of how the world looks to you

And how it might look here and now

Lift us off our knees

To follow you 

In bringing it in.

 

In Christ the King’s name

Amen.


DAVID FRANCEY - THE BREATH BETWEEN

Breath Between

Here’s the story. My Canadian friends Eric and Mary are driving around Cape Breton and a song comes on the radio. It is the title track of David Francey’s twelfth album The Breath Between. 

I can understand. When Eric and Mary lived in Belfast we talked a lot about poetic songs with great lyrics and a spiritual underbelly. I can imagine my friends turning a corner on the Eastern Canadian coast and hearing Francey sing…

 

Another year

That's had us see

The passing into

Memory

Souls and hearts

And voices stilled

Before that sun

Could climb the hill

 

We hold them close

And we carry on

In the breath between

The here and gone

 

… before shouting “Stockman would love this.” So much so that I got that rare email every 10 years or so, telling me so.

My immediate investigation into the record had me asking how this Scot who moved to Canada at 12 and didn’t start releasing records until his 40s had passed me by.

Even better than that title tracks I was salivating at how Francey delicately sets theology into song too. I love the everyman (and woman) faith of:

 

The sky was crying long and hard

And Jesus wept by the hospital stairs

And I stood and lit a cigarette

Burnt offering in place of prayer 

 

Francey is a revelation. There nothing fancy. He’s a rustic conversational storyteller in the traditional songwriter sense with a wee sprinkling of the Scottish in occasional fiddle, touch of accent and soul.

Elsewhere Narrow Boats has the sense of place of fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn, I Called It Love is look back at moments of love in maybe the most radio friendly song and Time For The Wicked To Rest is a sermonette on the mount:

 

Too many lies too many years

Too much hatred too much fear

Too much avarice too much greed

To ever satisfy the need

 

It's time for the wicked to rest

It′s time for the wicked to rest

Sooner or later

Sooner the better

Would be best

Time for the wicked to rest 

 

Again I am loving the cleverness of the word play, words that seem to tumble naturally out of a discerning and gifted man sharing with us his insights on love and loss, that short life we live in The Breath Between.

I have said for 30 years that I am drawn to Canadian music because it still has the song at its heart. Here’s another huge dollop of evidence. My new songwriting hero David Francey sitting snugly alongside Cockburn, Fearing, Sexsmith and Edwards. 

Thank you Eric and Mary.


SURMISING U2's UNDER A BLOOD RED SKY - 40TH ANNIVERSARY

Bono Blood Red

40 Years since U2’s Live At Red Rocks; Under A Blood Red Sky video and album. 

U2 releases at the time are so seismic that I have a memory of stopping up Castle Lane, bringing it out of the Caroline Music bag and showing it someone. I have no idea who. 

Never mind my stop in central Belfast, let me try to locate U2 in November 1983. So many younger fans ask when the band made it. For sure it was a slow burn and Joshua Tree was when they went mega BUT they were doing okay in 1983. 

To have a live video and record release, done at the iconic Red Rocks. Live Aid was over 20 months away but U2 already had the following before Bono jumped into the crowd at Wembley. Maybe it was our pre Joshua Tree zeal for the band and the great gift of hindsight but March 1987 was only a confirmation of what we all already recognised would be.

Back to me in Castle Lane. I think the energy of the Red Rocks’ performances, whether listened to or even more watched over and over again on video, gave us the catalogued evidence of U2’s energetic and charismatic sound. Watching Bono with his big black boots and that huge flag marching across the stage with such conviction made more impression on my University student self than just a musical one.

I have often spoken of how The Beatles led me to Jesus, asking the questions that only Jesus could ultimately answer. U2 arrived to carry me along as I worked through those answers.

The Christian spirituality had not yet been veiled by their unease with American fundamentalism. Here were boys of my age expressing the early raw vitality of discovering Jesus and starting out to work through those answers. 

Many years later I would be asked on live radio what my walk on song was. You know like boxers going into the ring have their anthem, what would I like playing as I entered the Church to preach. There was no dead air after the question. My immediate response was Gloria by U2. The Gloria I was thinking about was this live one for sure. Like the one I had actually experienced at my first U2 concert in Belfast’s Maysfield Hall just seven months before Red Rocks.

The other thing for Stockman in 1983 is that my faith is beginning to look out. U2 too were more objective on War than the subjectivity of October. The inner soul was beginning to meet the outer world.

As U2 looked out and unrolled their musical canvas that would take on Japan and America on their next record, Unforgettable Fire, this was a moment when their music was firing my Kingdom come imagination. The fuel for personal and social transformation was flooding through my system by the urgency of these performances. 


GRATITUDE, ATTITUDE AND HUMILITY

Windsor 22

(The script for my Pause For Thought with Owain Wyn Evans on BBC Radio 2 on November 22, 2023... The theme was An Attitude Of Gratitude)

 

In the summer of 2022 my wife and daughters and I spent a day in Windsor. We went on a river boat trip and took selfies outside the Castle. 

We never dreamed that some 16 months later we would get to go inside the Castle. To my complete surprise I was given an MBE in the King’s Honours List in June. It’s quite a thrill.

Even more fun is the investiture. We were all very chuffed that I was going to receive my medal in Windsor Castle. Oh yes.

For the moments you get with a member of the Royal Family you get a couple of hours in the rooms of the Castle. I spotted Willie Morgan the former Manchester United footballer just ahead of me in the line. I told him I had his book but now needed to read it. A laugh with a sporting hero.

Anyway, I had one intention when I got in front of my Royal, who to my delight, was the Princess Royal. As my MBE was for my contribution to peace building in Northern Ireland I wanted to thank the Royal Family for their contributions and to encourage them to continue.

The late Queen’s state visit to Dublin in 2011 when she spoke Irish at the State Dinner and shaking hands with Martin McGuinness in Belfast a year later made huge contributions to our peace building.

And I got my chance. When Princess Anne pinned the medal to my lapel I said thank you and, quickly in case time was short, thanked her family for their peace building.

Princess Anne took me off guard. She took it shyly, almost rejecting my thank you. As we chatted, with more time than I thought, she finally said that it was all about humility. 

I quickly got a bit too religious and said that even God was humble, coming to earth to live among us. The God of the manger, the donkey and the cross.

By the time we finally left Windsor Castle, we were reluctant to go, I was surmising the word humility, all tangled up with the word gratitude.  It is not easy to be humble when you live in castles. Yet gratitude and humility is how I will always feel looking back to this amazing day. 

Indeed humility is becoming my favourite and most challenging word.


60th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATHS OF LEWIS, HUXLEY & KENNEDY - WAS CS LEWIS THE MOST INFLUENTIAL

Lewis Huxley Kennedy

November 22nd 1963. Quite a day! The day that Aldous Huxley died as Sheryl Crow mentioned in her song Run Baby Run. It was also the day we lost CS Lewis. If he had only written novels, Belfast born, Lewis would have left a legacy that Hollywood would have mined for many a long decade.

The Narnia Chronicles have produced some of the most popular films in recent years. Yet, Lewis I will argue below left so much more. Of course the deaths of Huxley and Lewis were over shadowed by perhaps the one of the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, post war events; the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

As the world’s media have concentrated this week on the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy killing, I have been pondering CS Lewis. As I have surmised I wonder who left the biggest legacy? Who changed the world most?

Now I am no expert in Kennedy’s impact as I was just past my second birthday when he has so callously taken from us. I have no doubt that he was the first modern day pop star President. I have no doubt that he set in motion modern America and that the civil rights world changers likes of Martin Luther King Jr benefited from his Presidency. Let me state that I am in no way diminishing the legacy of JFK.

Yet, in the world I move in, CS is embedded deep in the DNA. As a Christian minister I wonder how many of my congregation have actually had their spiritual lives shaped by the work of CS Lewis. Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, A Grief Observed and The Great Divorce are among the Christian classics.

Then the fictional works like Til We Have Faces, The Screwtape Letters, the Space Trilogy and The Chronicles Of Narnia were deep in spiritual insight and allegory. When I consider generation after generation allowing these works to seep into their souls and then live them out across the world I can only imagine how much impact the life and genius of CS Lewis has reaped. Three of my favourites bands, U2, The Waterboys and Over The Rhine are drenched with Lewis’s influence!

In my own life Mere Christianity was foundational as a 17 year old who like Lewis was surprised by God’s existence. Lewis helped me reason the transcendent interruption of grace that had redirected, reinvented and redeemed my life.

I have used and abused his Screwtape Letters, as Bono has done,  in performances to deal with darkness and light. I have read the Narnia Chronicles to my girls and watched the movies with them always loving the fact that God (Aslan) has a Ballymena accent like me. In Fitzroy where I am minister “Aslan is on the move” is our phrase when God turns up and shakes us. 

My most quoted piece of Lewis's writing is found at the beginning of The Magician’s Nephew. It is the first venture into Narnia and this journey was not through the Wardrobe but by magic rings transporting Polly and Digory through a pool into this big new world.

Lewis, as a man of his age, becomes a little sexist in that Polly is immediately a little frightened and wants to jump back into the little pond and head back to safety and normality. Digory though, in his macho stereotype role, proves courageous and brave. With an adventurous spirit Digory declares, “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 love that!

There are a lot of Pollys in the Church. Many people are happy to have the rings to the Kingdom BUT are concerned about safety. They are like the guys in Jesus parable who are given a talent and dig a hole and bury it. The Master returns and is angry with their conservative playing safe. The talent has not been lost and damaged but it is whipped away from them and given to those who were brave and a little risky with their talents.

Safety is not an attribute in the Kingdom of God. There is no one from Genesis to Revelation who plays it safe and gets any credit at all from God. It is the reckless, who risked and at times got it way wrong, find themselves in God’s list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.

When we are born again into a whole new life and Kingdom, God does not want us to remain in the maternity ward obsessed with that rebirth. He longs for those who enter the Kingdom to head further up and further in. He longs that they would grow up again and head out into that Kingdom, to discover the dangerous terrain that God would long to redeem. There would not be much point of Jesus coming to live and die and be raised to life again in order to let us into a new Kingdom if we are afraid to explore that new Kingdom when grace throws us right into it.

CS Lewis threw us into another Kingdom. He fired our imaginations but kept it relevant to the ordinary. He led us further up and further and will continue to do so every time someone opens a book with his name on it. If in eternity we can look back into time and history I believe that we will see that on November 22nd 1963 the most significant death was that of CS Lewis. No matter what the TV says!


DON'T PLAY SAFE - PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

Don't Play Safe

When I was working with students, back in the day, I used the Parable of the Talents once a year.

As students appeared to begin their University lives I could sense that those from a sheltered conservative background were most determined to stay safe from the big bad world.

The theory was that if you could stay out of the bottom bar of the Queens Students Union and avoid drink and those without a faith then maybe you could get through University without getting tainted or back sliding.

Now I lived in what might have been a very safe Hall of Residence so many parents prayed that their children would get in there and be safe.

I remember one mother phoning (apologies if it was you) and when I explained that I didn’t have any more rooms she almost broke down at the thought of her son in the Elms Halls with non Christians. He might even have to share a room with one.

To encourage her I spoke about a friend of mine who came to faith in Jesus because he had to share a room with another friend of mine in those exact Halls. "That’s what happened to me," she said. I couldn’t quite believe the conversation.

Anyway I always warned my students against playing safe with the talent God had given them. This parable was against digging holes and hiding so that we wouldn’t get tainted or grazed. 

This parable was God telling us that he had gifted us an abundance of faith and spiritual gifts and that we were to be out there taking risks in the world to extend the Kingdom of God.

If we were the light of the world I suggested there was no point in shining in the light. It was the dark we were called to. Get out of the hole. Get down from the ivory tower. Playing safe is not an option. Ask Jesus.

 

Listen to the full sermon from November 19th 2023 here:

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DON't BEAT YOURSELF UP... TURN UP AND...

Don't...

This was Chris Blake's reflection at Fitzroy's Passion Worship event on Sunday November 19th 2023... I thought it needed shared... Thank you Chris for the permission...

 

He is here - where 2 or 3 are gathered together in His name

• His love is far bigger than we can imagine - we can’t escape it, as that last

song said in our highs and in our lows he is there loving us

• He is further beyond our understanding than we can dream

• Before you were conceived he knew you and loved you

Lord we worship you

But sometimes we just can’t:

And It’s OK when you can’t respond.

It’s Ok when you can’t understand.

It’s OK even when you can’t believe.

Don’t beat yourself up

Just turn up

Tell God you can’t

Allow Him to answer

And maybe worship will come

At the darkest time in my life when my first wife died I could do none of

those things and I had the most extraordinary experience of my faith life.

I was held - I knew “The peace that passes all understanding” - it was way

beyond understanding - I was so angry at God…

In the depth of your pain, He is seeking you out and His patience and

perseverance won’t let you go

Don’t beat yourself up

Just turn up

Tell God you can’t

Allow Him to answer

And maybe worship will comeAt times it isn’t that dramatic:

Life is just very busy

Life is just very ordinary

Worship, well worship just gets left out - there’s no time, no energy

He is seeking you out and His patience and perseverance won’t let you go

Don’t beat yourself up

Just turn up

Tell God you can’t

Allow Him to answer

And maybe worship will come

Church is boring, the band’s not great, I can’t sing those songs and the

congregation

Are all a bit weird

where 2 or 3 are gathered together in His name - People who share in His

forgiveness and love are gathered, He is here, His Spirit is with us.

Don’t beat each other up

He is here

Just turn up

Tell God you can’t

Argue with the song

Allow Him to answer

And maybe worship will comeSometimes the world seems so bleak, so dark and full of pain. Everything

seems to be going the wrong way…

and worship and even faith itself seems at the edge of possibility.

And then a light shines in - as with the extraordinary prayer of lament and

faith from Bethlehem Bible College this week - expressing trust in God’s

loving presence at a time of utter darkness in the devastation in Gaza.

A light shone in at other times:

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer had faith despite the darkness of the Jewish holocaust.

- Desmond Tutu had faith despite the darkness of the murderous apartheid

regime in South Africa…

- Father Alec Reid had faith despite the darkness of the Northern Ireland

Troubles - go and see the film about him on Wednesday evening.

Don’t give up

Just turn up

Tell God you can’t

Tell Him of the darkness of the world - pour out the sadness

Be lifted by the faith of others

And maybe worship will come