The Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. What a moving piece of art!

My friend, Rab, had spoken to me about it a few years ago. Rab would describe himself as “relatively agnostic but interested in many aspects across religions” so when he shared with me how taken he was with the Pieta I took note and cannot thank him enough.

His wife was investigating the Basilica and Rab kind of drifted over and caught sight of the Pieta. It is the work of Michelangelo. A beautiful 15th century sculpture in marble, the Pieta depicts Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, in her arms. It moved Rab to tears. 

My experience was similar. We had met Pope Francis. I needed time to surmise that and all the things that he said. We went through the Vatican Museum and much as it was impressive I was still pondering the events in Pope Francis’ private library. 

Janice went off to marvel at the art and beauty of St. Peter’s. I was at a loose end and remembered - Rab’s Pieta. I found my good friend Fr Martin Magill and asked about it. He took me over to it and it was that same wow factor as Rab experienced. 

We encouraged Janice over to join us and all three of us stood and wept. 

The theologically squeamish might shout, “It is not in the Bible.” No, it is not. That does not mean that between the cross where Mary stood watching her son die and the tomb he was laid in that she didn’t cradle his body.

However, fact is not the point. This is not theological. This is artistic. Whatever the facts, Mary did watch her soon die. She went through her valley of the shadow. She experienced that trauma. Michelangelo expresses that experience of Mary’s; beautifully, poignantly, painfully.

For Janice and I we were drawn to dear friends who lost their son to a very unexpected suicide just weeks ago. It is not the order of things for a parent to cradle their child’s body. Our friends experienced it. They said that they could have held him forever. Michelangelo captured their heartache.

Fr Martin recognised who we would be particularly thinking of. He added his own experience of far too many young suicides in west Belfast. 

All of our tears were deeply felt. Fr Martin suggested a prayer and I prayed for my friends and then all the other parents who experience what Mary went through. The love and sorrow that mingles. Again, there is something of the Gospel story that understands our humanity and our brokenness. 

As I type this, I sit by my father’s hospital bed as he drifts, thankfully comfortably, out of this life. However, tough and all as my grief is, that is how it should be. A son beside his parent. The Pieta is for all those who have to feel the sharp wounds of the wrong way round. As I sit praying with my father I remember them again too.


Philip Titanic

photo: Philip McCrea


Rain rings trash can bells

And what do you know?

My alley becomes a cathedral


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


Oh, Jesus, don't let Toronto

Take my song away


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can hear him singing Bruce Cockburn…

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

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

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


Our monastery is here and now

Where you are today

The person you are speaking with

The room you are sitting in

The street where you are walking

The action you are doing now

This is your monastery

This is your prayer

Eternity is now

The city is our monastery.


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



Meat Loaf

It was with sadness that I heard the news this morning of Meat Loaf's death. I am first and foremost a pastor and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Deborah and his daughters Pearl and Amanda. Below is my personal tribute, from a blog I wrote two years ago...


Meat Loaf might be seen as a really guilty pleasure. I was watching a documentary on Meat Loaf recently and it took me back to early 1978. 

I do not only remember Meat Loaf’s debut performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test but also the conversations the next day in school. Those of us particularly interested in music were all over this performance. We had seen or heard nothing like it. Bat Out of Hell blew us away.

The album however was not easy to get. Bat Out of Hell was originally a slow burn (forgive the pun!). It took awhile to find its way into Ballymena record shops. My first copy was a recording on cassette. It would be the end of the summer before I bought my own copy, during The British Open at St. Andrews!

I remember days where I listened to that record all day long. That was not something I tended to do. I had played Sweet’s Block Buster so many times in a row that I got bored with it so my policy was always play something else before replaying a single or album.  

I could not get enough of Meat Loaf and even now I can see what it was that caught our attention. Bat Out Of Hell was Queen through a blender with Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, E Street Band member Roy Bittan played piano and it was how a friend introduced me to Born To Run. Bat Out Of Hell was bombastic and dramatic but Jim Steinman’s songs were so strong that you forgave that and maybe secretly liked it. I mean Two Out of Three and You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth are great songs. When my daughters play The Greatest Showman or Hamilton I hear Steinman!

Bat Out Of Hell was full of desire, a lot of it sexual. It is not lost on my looking back four decades later that I was sixteen and not doing well with girls so it probably reached my teenage hormones. Jim Steinman’s songs though have more going on than sexual lust.

There is a lust for life. These are songs about milking all that life has to offer. I was a year away from finding Jesus. In my favourite verse in John 10:10 Jesus speaks about “life in all its fulness.” Bat Out of Hell might not have the creed, though heaven and hell are a core part of Steinman’s lyrics, but it is an adrenaline rushed soundtrack of that life in all its fulness.

To be fair it really helped that producer Todd Rundgren understood songwriter Jim Steinman’s vision and crafted the songs into a stunning piece of rock music. The melodies are strong. The playing has flourish. Meat Loaf has charisma. Some songs are long but there is not a wasted second.

For Meat Loaf it never got better. Oh I enjoyed Jim Steinman’s solo record Bad For Good and Meat Loaf’s eventual follow up Deadringer but nothing ever quite reached the heights.

Indeed when in 1993 Bat Out Of Hell II was contrived from its sound to its cover to how they sold it. The music business svengalis conned us all into buying the follow up. They gave us the sound, the image and took us back but I was almost twice my age with different tastes in music and at a different stage of life. We all bought the nostalgia and though there were some good songs, it was no longer who we were. When I took it to a second hand shop they refused to take it. They had so many already!

Yet, down the year I still came across Meat Loaf’s songs that I liked. A song on the radio or a documentary on television had me seeking out familiar songs and trailing new ones. At regular intervals, I want to hear that voice, that Steinman arrangement, a little bombast.

Maybe I am looking at that wee bit of nostalgia that was overdosed on Bat Out Of Hell II. Maybe I am looking for that adrenaline rush that thankfully for me is more than a rock roll dream come through but a real life imaginative way to live!

Thank sir. Thank you for the music and the memories. 


Fitzroy panorama

Apparently I was on Sky News on January 2nd. I have been fascinated by who saw me. Two from South Africa, one from Johannesburg and one from Cape Town, another from Kampala, Uganda and two from the Republic Of Ireland, one in Cavan and one in Meath! No one from Northern Ireland seemed to notice!

Of course I know I was on Sky News. Sky News journalist David Blevins came to Fitzroy and did an interview. It was about the shrinking number of people who put themselves down as religious in polls. 27% of the population now deem themselves to be non religious and that figure has doubled in ten years.

David did an excellent piece with Northern Irish league footballer Robbie Norton and Mary Lou, the Humanist Chaplain at Queen’s University, conversing about our long held Protestant-Catholic identities and the relation that both those who hold Christian faith seriously, like Robbie, and no longer hold it at all, like Mary Lou, aren’t claiming the traditional labels. 

In the piece I come in to suggest that Jesus hasn’t had the best PR and that perhaps once we get past this big wall of how we define our religion we might get on to the spiritual questions.

In the edited piece my surmising on Adele and Sting had to be cut.

Though neither singer is from Northern Ireland and would understand the religiosity, though Sting might as his first wife was from Andersonstown, both have recently made spiritual pontifications from places of ‘non religious’!

Adele perhaps surprised me the most. Her song I Drink Wine is the highest quality of social comment, right on the proverbial money… and very personal.

It’s a song that asks deep questions of where to find satisfaction and fulfilment of self. It recognises that the world is corrupting our hearts. It is not so much what she is critiquing that fascinates me but in what she is looking at:


In these crazy times I hope to find 

Something I can cling on to

'Cause I need some substance in my life

Something real, something that feels true


These are deeply spiritual questions… almost a searching for God. Her comments on her TV Special Adele With An Audience when she shared about a spiritual experience while on a beach with her friend Stormzy only adds to the intrigue.

Like Adele, many are no longer defining religious but are still seeking spiritual answers. As I said on the Sky News piece it is a shame that Jesus PR hasn’t been good since the 2nd or 3rd century!

Speaking of spiritual questions, a few days later and Jools Holland, on his Later... With Jools show, is talking to Sting about such questions in the ex Police man’s work. There is no way that Sting is will declare himself religious but he told Holland that he was all about asking the big questions about who we are and why we are here.

Those spiritual questions are riddled through his new record The Bridge. There’s a song called The Book Of Numbers and lots of church bells and even a song called The Bells Of St. Thomas where the bells are like the conscience of a man being seduced in what Sting himself calls a very strange lyric. 

Best of all is the song Loving You that had me propelled into the Old Testament story of Hosea. This is the tale of a man whose wife commits adultery but he stays true to the vows made in Church. There are so many similarities to the Old Testament prophet Hosea’s story of an adulterous wife:


We made vows inside the church

To forgive each other's sins

But there are things I have to endure

Like the smell of another man's skin


Sting’s heartbroken husband then does the Hosea thing and shows grace and a profound forgiveness:


I pray the waters of forgiveness

Will rain down on you and me

Just like newborn babies

In the cradle of a tree


This is love. A love that the Bible might claim as God’s unique unconditional love:


If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is

If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is.


So, as religious affiliation is on the decline, spiritual questions continue to be asked. The Church needs to get into such conversations and in ways that they will get heard. We might find Jesus as a good role model as to how to do that!



Sometimes the sermon comes alive while it is being preached. My mind is an adrenalin rush while preaching. For me it is where the Holy Spirit takes the skeletons of my thoughts on paper and brings them alive in the actual preach. Sometimes I tell Janice that this week’s sermon is disappointing on paper but once preached she is asking me what I was talking about!

Also, there are times, with me many times, when a song, a book, a film throw up illustrations that crack the nut of the Biblical text. 

It was a film that cracked Zechariah’s song at the end of Luke 1: 76-79 -


And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins, 

because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.


So, as Zechariah waited for the Messiah he prophecies about how his son John The Baptist will prepare the way for that Messiah. He economically rolls out the benefits of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection. Knowledge of salvation, forgiveness of sins, the tender mercy of God, path of peace… 

As I preached I was drawn to the forgiveness of sins. It seems an obvious every Sunday idea. Yet, a film cracked a nut.

The film was The Keeper, a true story of the life of Bert Trautmann, a German prisoner of war in England who fell in love with a woman and football and stayed after the war ended. He became a hero playing for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup Final, playing the last 20 minutes with a broken neck. There are a few nut crackers in there for reconciliation in a post war society but that’s for another sermon and blog.

There is a scene in the movie where Bert is doing his first press interview after signing for Manchester City. The journalists are dragging up his German army past and it comes to light that he had won an Iron Cross medal. What exactly had he done? 

Margaret, now Bert’s wife, is angry that Bert hasn’t told her everything he did during the war. She’s his wife. There should be no secrets. He turns and looks her in the eye and asks, “What is the worst thing you have ever done?”

Margaret is knocked back. When it is put like that we all have secrets. There are things that we have done that we do not even want to tell those who love us the most.

For Bert Trautmann what he had been involved in was not only something that he didn’t want to share but brought with it a guilt that lingered with him. It haunts him throughout the movie.

Trautmann’s story and these scenes cracked something open about “the forgiveness of sins” that Zechariah sings about in Luke 1. 

I think that we preach so often on daily sins and weekly sins that we have reduced sin to petty little habits or little moments of bad decision making causing us to do something selfish or not do something we should have done.

The Keeper film goes to the very depths of the very worst of us. Deep rooted guilt lies in all of our lives. It can haunt us like ghosts. It can eat away at any goodness in our souls. It can paralyse us and lead us into all kinds of mental ill health. It can keep us from God and stop us living a full life and doing amazing things.

Zachariah reminds us that Jesus came to deal with these festering secrets. Zachariah’s father would declare Jesus, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. My most haunting sin. The worst thing Bert Trautmann ever did. Guilt free. Atoned for. Imagine the rebirth. The freedom. The new possibilities.


Harrison 2


The 50th Anniversary Edition of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass has been lingering in my excited expectation for weeks and is finally here. 


As I prepared for its arrival I was listening to the original, the 2000 remasters and The Concert For Bangladesh as well as reading the brand new book about it all - All Things Must Pass Away and Other Assorted Love Songs.


I have been needlessly drawn to the spiritual musings of Harrison’s eastern faith and always trying to caress them with my Jesus faith. 


Beware of Darkness caught my soul afresh. I have been listening to these songs since I finally found the album in a shop on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh on my family summer holidays of 1980 and have loved this song and even the covers by Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones. Yet, I heard it deeper this past few weeks.


I believe, as Harrison’s wife Olivia has said, that George was preaching to himself as much as any of us. Here was a man who had lived at the very zenith of pop stardom for some 7 years and was about to become the biggest star of 1971 attempting some kind of Hare Krishna holiness in the middle of unimaginable wealth and hedonistic temptation.


He warns us to be alert to wealth and power and takes it from outside to within. 


Watch out now, take care

Beware of the thoughts that linger

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of night

Beware of sadness


I was particularly interested in his reasoning why. Too often in the traditional Christian idea of temptation or sin it is all about breaking some rule concocted my some headmaster type God. Harrison gets closer to the truth. Beware of these things because they are a hurdle to us finding our full human potential. George might have called that perfect consciousness. I would call it the “life and all its fulness” that Jesus invites us into. That is what a God of love wants for us. Fulfilment of our humanity that he created and redeemed.


It can hit you

It can hurt you

Make you sore and what is more

That is not what you are here for


What we are here for? That is my reason for following Jesus. It is not about some ethereal otherworldliness. It is the opposite. I follow Jesus to make the most sense of can of the world and my fulfilled place within it. 


Guard Your Heart


As I tried to find the caressing of Beware Of Darkness with my own pilgrimage I happened to be reading Guard My Heart by Sue Divin. A wonderful novel set as a modern Romeo and Juliet story in Derry/Londonderry/Doire, the title comes from one of the Scripture’s Proverbs - 4:23. 


Catholic Aidan’s mother used to tell him, in Irish, “Guard your heart for it is the well spring of life.” The novel is about two young people trying to do exactly that in a world very different to George Harrison’s but just as complex to spiritually navigate. 


Proverbs 4:23 is a very good paraphrase of Beware of Darkness. It’s a world of sectarian darkness that could so easily envelope Aidan and Iona in Divin’s book. If these two 18 year olds are to discover themselves, push themselves to the next chapter in the story of who they can be they would do well to beware of the darkness of, and guard their hearts from, our wee island’s prejudiced hatreds?


And me? I am no wealthy pop star. I am, sadly, no 18 year old just finding my way but Harrison’s song has me alerting myself to the seductions of a society offering all kinds of glittery things than could drag me well away from what I am here for. 


Fatal mistakes

"My granddaddy's bible, so brooding and black

Lies like a tombstone on my own daddy's back"

(from Musicians and Beer by Del Amitri)


The Good News of Jesus Christ has had bad PR for many centuries. We see it again here with these lines from Del Amitri’s new record Fatal Mistakes.

How can a book about salvation, justice, mercy, grace, love and hope have been caricatured as a brooding black tombstone. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

The salvation history that runs through the entire Bible is all about light and freedom and carrying an easy burden. 

Some say, “Never judge a book by the cover”. Well, we all do. I don’t know who first set this Good News of the Scriptures between black leather covers. Maybe it was about protection. In those days centuries ago it perhaps didn’t matter. Maybe it was how precious books were covered.

Today though it portrays a different message as the Del Amitri lines reveal. In 2021 that black leather speaks of doom, death and judgement. The fear is that that is what we have been concentrating on in the preaching of it too. It’s handed down like a tombstone on our children’s backs.

It’s almost a blasphemy! Preaching recently on the Good news of the Kingdom of God I find it far more like a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colours. This is the story of the Light of the World.  

Forgive us Justin Currie and your father and his father too. 

Sadly you are not the only ones but black is a bad recommendation. Brooding should never be in the same sentence. Tombstones? No… Light shining out of empty tombs. The colours of rainbow hope and resurrection!


Jay Swartzendruber

Late last night as I was scanning Facebook my friend Gar Seeger posted about the death of Jay Swartzendruber. I took a double take. Surely not. There have been far too many deaths of friends in recent months, so many younger than me, and Jay’s rattled me more than most. Jay death was sudden. He was only 52.

Jay Swartzendruber was a man of real authenticy and integrity. He was a man of God of the very best kind. He was a creative. Like me he used his creativity to promote creatives. He was a writer who enthused about music and propelled artists with his journalistic skills into the wider conscious.

When I met Jay he was editor of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) magazine that in the mid 90s was the voice of a huge industry. He was the friend of the artist. He was passionate about both the "music" and the "Christian" parts of the title.

Soon he was helping Steve Taylor launch Squint Entertainment and launching artists like Sixpence None The Richer out of that CCM ghetto and into the mainstream charts. I remember him sending me the video of Kiss Me that I showed to my students long before they were all singing along to it. It gave me some cred!

It was his place in that world of musicians with a Christian faith that got him his mention in my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2. In 2005 Jay was a conduit for Bono meeting up with some of CCM’s most influential musicians in the Art House in Nashville. 

While trying to convince President George W Bush to contribute more help to the HIV crisis in sub Sahara Africa, Bush had encouraged Bono to reach out to the evangelical Christian community of America. Bono did six weeks in the heartland and the Nashville meeting was an influential part of that. Jay was at the heart of it.

Jay was probably more conservative than I was both theologically and politically. For the last ten years he has been Copywriter at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He also liked George W Bush. We discussed that a few times.

With Jay, though there was never an argument. He held his views. He held them strongly. Yet, he shared them gently. As I spend time in the sacred space of reminiscing Jay’s passing it is that that rises to the top. Oh I loved that we loved music, the same music and how he enthused. 

Yet, it was his openness to listen and the gracious way he shared his views and never belittled the opinion of others that I treasure and am most inspired by. Jay was the epitome of grace, not grace as a theological concept so much as a way to live. The tributes from a wide range of friends is testament to a man who was consumed by the grace of God in fun, laughter, love and enthusiasm.

Now, here is the final twist. I only met Jay once in person. We were both involved in the marriage of our friends David Dark and Sarah Masen. Jay might have been the reason they got together.  

Jay is one of the reasons that I argue that social media is not an alternative to real life connection. It is a supplement. Indeed, there are many like Jay whom I meet rarely, if ever, but feel a spiritual kinship. Originally Jay and I were on an email community called Time Being set up by our mutual friend Lee Smithey. Then it was Facebook. Friendship continued.

In the last 24 hours I have read endless tributes to Jay. I recognise every one. The man I felt I knew thousands of miles away on social media is the same human being thanked and loved by those who knew him better. Love and prayers tonight to his close friends and to his wife Jaimie who will be most heartbroken of all.  


American Dirt

American Dirt is the most gripping read that you could ever imagine. From the first chapter where our main characters Lydia and Luca cower in a bathroom while their sixteen closes family members get brutally mowed down by gun fire in their yard we are on a danger filled drama for 450 pages that is not easy to put down. 

Lydia’s husband Sebastian was a journalist who exposed Javier a king pin in a drug cartel. Lydia and Luca immediately go on the run feeling that Javier’s cartel can track them down at any stage.

We therefore find ourselves in the shoes of a middle class woman and son who are not the kind of people we consider as migrants. Cummins is attempting to put middle class judgemental America into this migrant tale. We follow them through road blocks and after the meet two Honduran teenagers, also on the run from the rape of drug cartels, we travel with them on the notorious La Bestia, the train that migrants ride on the roof of in their dream to escape.

Cummins is a great writer and has the ability to write this fast moving drama and then scatter it with these tender and angry paragraphs of emotions. Her father died just as she started writing and grief runs through it. Hope is also found in some scarily broken places. She has also a poetic flair for setting the geographical scenes.

What I love as much as the surprise of being able to see our middle class selves in a migrants life is how she humanises the bad guys. Javier is a friend of hers, whom she really likes, before she discovers he is the brutal menacing leader of a drug cartel who threatens her life. She empathetically grieves with him at one stage in the book. 

Then there is what I am looking for in any art. Light from all quarters as the reformed theologians call it. The Gospel According To… as I have called it. American Dirt has lots of the spiritual. There is plenty of praying going on throughout. It seems to most of these migrants and those who take care of them, many of them in religious groups, as familiar as breathing.

Then there are my three top soul insights.

The first one is when Lydia and Luca seek refuge from an old friend of Lydia’s husband Carlos. Along with his wife Meredith he is now involved in an independent evangelical Church. 

When they find Carlos in that church, their dilemma is that the the next part of the journey through Mexico will be swarming with drug cartels. They will be blocking all the roads making Lydia and Luca very vulnerable to Javier’s drug buddies who she knows are after them. 

Carlos believes he has a way through. There is a Mission Team from Indiana at the church. On their way back to their flight home in Mexico City Carlos plans that they smuggle Lydia and Luca through the roadblocks in their minibus. 

Meredith is aghast. How can he think of putting the lives of this Mission Team in jeopardy? It would be too dangerous. Carlos’s question is a cutting one for those of us who, like I do every year, go on Mission Trips to LEDC (Less Economically Developed Countries):


“They just want to make pancakes and take selfies with skinny brown kids.”


Wow! There has been a lot of consideration in Christian Mission over the last 20 years about such mission teams. It has produced books like Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts. Jeanine Cummins’ provocation here needs thought about.

Later in the book Lydia and Luca, by this time accompanied by the Honduran teenagers Soledad and Rebeca, come across another follower of Jesus who was not about the pancakes or selfies. 

They have climbed back off La Bestia train and are trying to get into a nearby town. A car pulls up and the man says he is a doctor and has a clinic. Lydia is by this stage ultra suspicious and is not sure whether to trust the man. Eventually Soledad who is least trusting of all asks:


“And why do you want to help us anyway?

The man touches the gold crucifix around his neck. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.’

Lydia automatically blesses herself. ‘A stranger and you welcomed me’. She completes the Scripture, passing the water to Rebeca…


I loved this. The hairs on the back of my soul stood up. The authentic positives of following Jesus recognised in a modern novel. I am not sure where Jeanine’s Biblical worldview comes from but I wonder was this a genuine line that she heard while she researched the book among those from churches helping Migrants on the border.

There is one other insightful in the book that tugged at me.  They are about to meet the coyote that will see them safe across the border and through the dangerous desert to Tuscon. Lydia is worrying about the coyote’s trustworthiness, Giving him all her money. Once the money is handed over what incentives will he have left? Will he just leave them for dead? What choice does she have?


“So, Lydia is worried about all these things, and yet, she has a new understanding about the futility of worry. The worst will either happen or not happen, and there’s no worry that will make a difference in either direction.”


I was immediately hearing Jesus trying to share this in the Sermon on the Mount, "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

I was also acutely aware that all the things I worry about, even in trying to navigate the borderland desert of a pandemic, are minor worries compared to what the majority of the rest of the world have to deal with… and seem to deal with with dignity, more trust and less fuss than those of us who are spoiled and feel entitled.

Which bring me back to what Cummins set out to do. She not only puts us middle class entitled on the La Bestia journey in Mexico to see the migrant crisis from a very different perspective but she reflects it back on us and the lives we live in our comfortable world, to see that in a different perspective too. 

It’s brilliant!

LOST LIVES - A Film Review

Lost Lives Film

The film Lost Lives, based on the book of the same name by David McKittrick et al that dispassionately catalogued 3,700 lives lost in the Northern Ireland Troubles, is a dissonant, disconcerting, disturbing, piece of beauty.

I struggle to type the word beauty. It seems out of place. It seems almost disparaging of the lives that are being spoken of, whether those are lives brutally cut way too short by horrible murder or the lives of those who have lived all the years since with the heartache and grief.

Yet, Lost Lives is a carefully and beautifully put together piece of film. The film makers Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt have spoken of not making a documentary but a film inspired by the book. This is what the book evoked in the heart of two artists.

What they therefore create is this blend and blur of wonder and danger, calm and confusion, beauty and violence. There are images of sea and mountain of wild deer and dead suburban rats, sacred churches and desolate buildings.

This is all a discordant and frenetic background into which they then edit in news clips of bombs and funerals and overlay the stories of 20 of the 3,700 entries in the book. They add no script. Only what is in the book.

On this fascinatingly disturbing canvas Dermpt Lavery and Michael Hewitt use the gravitas of the voices of an array of Ireland’s best actors including Liam Neeson, Kenneth Brannagh, Roma Downey and Bronagh Waugh to tell the stories of lives dismissed, destroyed and discarded by a bloody hatred that is almost impossible to fathom. The final piece of the magnificence is a requiem like soundtrack by the Ulster Orchestra.

Lost Lives is a work of original imagination but it the film is not about the art. It is about the lives lost. When it comes to these live lost this is a arduous tale of horrible inhumanity. There is absolutely no beauty in the content.

The stories are a hard listen. The one year old shot by the bullet that went through her seven years old sister’s skirt; the family including two children under 18 months who were blown up in the Dublin bombs; the two Protestant brothers killed for dating Catholic girls yet we don’t which side did the deed; a few teenagers lives over before they began. Then there is the grief and heartache of this left behind. There are the suicides too.

“War is hell” is how Michael Hewitt described it. More poignant were the words of Mrs Orr’s, mother of those sons murdered for dating the wrong girls, “It’s like sitting and watching a nation committing suicide and there’s nothing you can do about it.” 

Most philosophical of all were the words of James Kennedy’s father. James was 15 when he was killed in the Graham’s Bookies’ massacre in 1992. James’ mother died of a broken heart just two years later. James’s dad said, “The bullets didn’t just travel in distance. They travel in time. Some of those bullets will never stop travelling.” 

Indeed… and we as a nation need to see this film, hear these stories and view that this inhumane monster of cold blooded carnage never raises its head ever again.