KARL WALLINGER (19.10.57 - 10.3.24) - MY TRIBUTE


I have loved Karl Wallinger since he first appeared alongside Mike Scott in their Waterboys’ musical adventures to find the Big Music. 

When he shimmied to the side and started World Party I was right there and eagerly ready. I loved Karl Wallinger. Oh I didn’t love everything he recorded but I loved enough of it so much as to be a huge fan. 

The first album Private Revolution had my jury still out but then Goodbye Jumbo, Bang, Egyptology and Dumbing Up gave us a run of near perfectly created, played and produced albums of energetic pop/rock that pumps out the spirit of love into a world well in need of it.

Think of that run of songs Ship Of Fools, Way Down Now, Put A Message In a Box, Is It Like Today, Give It All Away, Give It Time and She’s The One. The latter is best known of all as Wallinger collaborator Guy Chambers introduced it to Robbie Williams that he was producing at the time and Robbie made She’s The One a number hit, against Wallinger’s wishes, though he eventually appreciated the money!

On of the big reasons that I was so fond of Wallinger’s World Party was his covers of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. On Private Revolution was All I Really Wanna Do and on the 12” of the Ship Of Fools single was Nowhere Man. 

Later an extra CD single release for Beautiful Dream had Penny Lane, Sweetheart Like You and Mind Games. Wow! On Arkeology a 5 CD release of songs old, new, live, covered or alternative there is a blistering cover of Like A Rolling Stone but it is Cry Baby Cry, Fixing A Hole and my very favourite version of Dear Prudence is what grabs me.

I am heartened by the social media messages around Wallinger’s passing. He hasn’t released an album for 24 years and that wide ranging compilation Arkeology was the very last thing released 12 years ago.

Yet, he was not forgotten but coined to be loved. I hope he knew that and his family takes comfort in it.

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed The Waterrboys’ 1985, a full catalogue of the work that eventually became This Is The Sea. Karl Wallinger fingerprints were all over it. 

Just a soon as Scott and Wallinger caught a glimpse of the whole of the moon they took different directions. Scott to the muse more raw, organic in the raggle tangle sounds of the west of Ireland and Wallinger to the crisp clean sheen sounds of World Party. 

Much as I would have loved to have heard what Wallinger and Scott would have done together in the late 80s and 90s, I am maybe more delighted that I have both Fisherman’s Blues and Egyptology. The rivers roared out into different seas of wonderful music.

Thank you Karl Wallinger.


Silent Witness

It is almost the last scene in a cliff hanging and gruesome in places Silent Witness. 

In search of a serial killer who might or not be alive our guys, Nikki and Jack discover almost by accident that the murder suspect that they are chasing has been held captive in awful conditions by a victim’s husband. 

As the camera pans to a man hidden below ground like an animal for decades his captor says,


“I thought I could punish him forever

I thought it would help

BUT it didn’t.”


It is a dilemma that so many victims have. “If I could punish him forever.” There is something within us that immediately seeks revenge and retaliation. If we can get our pound of flesh and pay back the trauma and pain we imagine there will be justice and maybe healing.

Our character in Silent Witness perhaps reveals the truth. He thought it would help. It didn’t.

My good mate Fr Martin Magill and I talk a lot about forgiveness. When we do we are usually stopped by people incredulous that we should be asking people to forgive. We are often told that we are giving victims a double trauma. We add to their pain the guilt by demanding that they forgive.

That is not how Fr Martin and I see forgiveness. We see it as a gift from Jesus for the healing of the victim. In forgiving is a process of letting go of the need for justice, it releases our anger, deep hurt and need for revenge. 

Peter Gabriel puts it well on his new record I/O. Gabriel looks at revenge and sings:


Just how long do you want to hate

With all that anger to burn?

You dream of revenge

And you dream of reply

You'd hope that someday we'd learn

Every time you think of that hurt

It spins around in your mind

With an eye for an eye

Again and again

Until the whole world is blind


He sees a better way:


This is how it turns

This is what we do

This is who we are

When we forgive we can move on

Release all the shackles one by one

We belong to the burden until it's gone


That is what Fr Martin and I are believing, hoping for, offering. A forgiveness that releases from the vicious hurt and mad anger. A release of the burden of trauma. We believe that is what Jesus was on a bout in his prayer - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those trespass against us.”

In his horrific treatment of the one who murdered his wife he has only left his own mind, heart and soul shredded. The attempting to bring this person to justice by his own violence has kept the shackles and burden locked in. 


“I thought I could punish him forever

I thought it would help

BUT it didn’t.”


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!


Stocki  Jani and Jed

Last year we met a couple on Ballycastle beach. They were searching in the sand. We asked if we could help. Had they lost something. It appears that the woman liked frosted glass. The way the sea wears it down. 

As we were about to walk on the man says, "Are you Steve Stockman". I confessed. He said that he had heard me doing a Pause For Thought on the radio about this beach, about walking it with my wife and dog. "Welcome into that Pause For Thought", I laughed. 

He said that he had heard it during Covid and after lockdown, he was so taken by my story, that they came and walked the beach. They loved it so much that they now had bought a house in Ballycastle. Wow! The influence. 

Of course the buying of houses is not my aim. Here is that Pause For Thought. We did it as our "Evensong" again tonight as we do religiously while we are in residence in Ballycastle. 


The north coast of Northern Ireland has been in the spotlight recently. Not only Game Of Thrones but the British Open golf. The Open was played in Portrush. As a child I loved Portrush. It was loud and bright and busy. Amusements, Rollercoaster, big beaches.

Ballycastle along the coast, I really did not like. It seemed a little dull. Yet twenty years later my wife and I bought a house there because it was cheaper. And in the last twenty years I have come to love the quieter town… smaller… less crowded… more scenic beach views.

We live in a bright loud world and being still and reflective has become a lost art, a rarity, a very difficult task. Almost by default Ballycastle beach has become my meditative space. In the late evening we walk across the beach and marvel at the sunsets behind Kinbane Head and Rathlin Island.

It is on these walks that I hear most God’s still small voice. This is where my body, heart and soul slow down. When I stop for a deep breath. Here I often have a sense that in a very ordinary evening walk something extraordinary is going on. 

Like a while back. Out for the nightly stroll I looked across at my wife Janice… our beloved dog Jed. I then looked out at Fair Head, our high cliff shelter, all its veins jutting out in strength and beauty.

And the still small voice inside me whispered, “Look Steve… do you get it. This is what the human life is all about”

So I started to ponder. The Christian Bible begins and ends with visions of oneness… between human and human… human and creation… human and God. 

The entire Christian story is based around broken relationships being somehow restored by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The still small voice was pointing out that I was getting an inkling of it as I held my wife’s hand and smiled at our dog’s love, and as I inwardly gave thanks for the wonder of creation. 

I then heard the voice of Van Morrison speaking about another part of Northern Ireland, “Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time”.


and a poem...


Just how sensational is that blue

The one made by these light beams

Not the darker cathartic kind

That soothes the bluesman’s bad dreams

This one's made by the evening sun

Setting low above the town

Just two hours before the candle glow

That deep orange of it going down


Just how many shapes can clouds throw

Like they’re belching out smoke from a fire

As if they’ve built a hundred chimney stacks

All across the Mull Of Kintyre

And the ripples and dimples and sky waves

As they float out towards Rathlin Island

I’m not sure Dawkins has it right

‘Cos I’m pretty sure God is smiling


And I look at who I’m with

You’re the image of something higher

Higher than sunset's bursting colours

That set the sky on fire


Just how vivid is this evening air

The Fair Head’s deciding to strut right out

Veins of rock with heaven in the detail

Leaves the atheist a mountain of doubt

There is a beauty elusively placed

That picture postcards just can’t capture

Like you walking this beach beside me girl

God has me by the throat with his rapture.


And I look at who I’m with

You’re the image of something higher

Higher than sunset's bursting colours

That set the sky on fire


This is our place

Our mystical space

Where we clear the clouds that have been

This is our time

The verse to our rhyme

Where we find visions of pictures unseen.



Breaking news at the end of BBC’s Newsline “Sinead O’Connor has died…” My heart did that little caving in when it’s hit with sorrow filled news. “No, no, no, no… oh dear… Sinead”. I muttered.

I first came across Sinead O’Connor when she was still a teenager, adding her voice to In Tua Nua’s song Take My Hand and then a song with U2’s Edge, Heroine, the theme song for the movie The Captive in 1986. 

I pretty much missed her first album The Lion and The Cobra in 1987 but nobody in the world missed 1990’s Nothing Compares To You the global mega single from her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

The video for Nothing Compares To You, written by Prince, introduced a new superstar, an Irish girl with shaved head and a seemingly innocent porcelain skinned face. At 24 she had set her mark on the history of music. What a mark it would be.

She would never reach the same commercial success again but in the vast array of directions that her music took from there on she always caught my attention and mad em pay attention - jazz standards, Irish trad, reggae. There was even an album called Theology, filled with Biblical symbolism.

I would suggest that her last two records were as strong as any before them. I always looked forward to what she would be saying next. That there will not be another and lots after that is a shame. Her music will be missed.

Sinead’s performances off stage are as well known as her art. She had a personal story of childhood trauma to be shared. She also was never backward about coming forward. Her heroes Dylan and Marley were protest singers and she took on that mantle. 

For her as an Irish girl that was the backward theocracy that she grew up and suffered under. Her ripping up of a photograph Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live will sit side by side with Nothing Compares To You in her obituaries. It was at the beginning of the opening up the Catholic Church paedophile scandals and a couple of decades that turned Ireland on its head.

I sympathised with her honesty about her brokenness and mental health issues. I empathised with her desire to bring about a just and loving world. Like Jesus, she was always on the side of the underdog, the hurting, the poor, the marginalised. 

I remember just two weeks after the Pope incident she was to sing at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert in 1992. Everyone was to sing a Dylan song and Sinead had rehearsed her deeply spiritual version of I Believe In You but when it went live broke into Bob Marley’s War before being booed off. 

I was living in Dublin at that time and trying to understand the changes that were happening in the Republic of Ireland led by the likes of Bob Geldof, U2 and Sinead. I remember in the midst of all of the commentary seeing through Sinead’s hurt. Like a pastor I saw her as a prodigal daughter, broken, resilient and brave, often seeming lost but ever seeking. 

As the news broke tonight I was back there with my 1992 notebook feeling sympathy, empathy and heart ache for her pain filled life, added beyond understanding by her son Shane’s suicide last year, and the joy that her music has brought me and will continue to do.

“No, no, no…”


Drake biog

I know already that it will be a Nick Drake summer for me. 

When I finally get away, after a wedding next week, for our first week off, I will dip into a pile of books. Most years I try to pick one music biography amongst the novels. I then delve into the artist’s music as I am reading about it.

The rock biog at the top of my list this year is Robert Morton Jack’s tome on a young songwriter from Tamworth-On-Arden who died in 1974 at 26 years of age as pretty much an unknown artist - now the legendary Nick Drake.

This seems to be the Drake book to read. It sound like it has been well researched and has though not “official” it has the blessing of Nick’s sister Gabrielle who handed over Drake’s own papers and her father’s diary. 

What lifts Drake above books on Lucinda Williams, Leon Russell and Springsteen’s Nebraska is the release, at the very same time, of a double album of Drake covers. We have had Drake Tributes before including the reverent Way To Blue. This new one is perhaps more adventurous.

Drake Tribute

The Endless Coloured Ways; The Songs of Nick Drake has an array of artists not easily linked to the quiet atmospheres of Drake. Fontaines DC, Radiohead’s Philip Selwey, Feist and Liz Phair to name a few.

I have only got a listen or two at this stage but am loving Ben Harper’s Time Has Told Me, Lets Eat Grandma’s From The Morning, Nadia Reid’s Poor Boy and Joe Henry sharing vocals with Meshell Ndegeocello on Time Of No Reply are the four that have really struck me so far. 

Drake is someone that I have revered for thirty years and yet have not been the devotee that I feel I should be. A perfect summer’s vacation is when I get the time to take an artist that I like so that I can fall in love with them. Who knows we might nip off the M6 and visit his grave next week!

Let us get on the ferry… 



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!