PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

U2... FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL MANIFESTO

U2 Boy

(I am repeating some old Thoughts For The Day and Pause For Thoughts for the blog... This one was on BBC Radio 2 and the week's theme was "Debut Albums")

 

Like most of you I waken up every morning to Radio 2... the daze gradually lifting, half dreaming, half hearing, sometimes the two blurring between fact and fiction. A few years ago, around coffee time, I suddenly asked my staff if they had heard anything about U2 winning 5 Grammies?

I wasn’t sure if it was the fact or the fiction of early morning radio! No one knew but less than 30 minutes later the phone went and it was a major news network asking me if I had heard that U2 had won 5 Grammies the night before! Fact! Honest!

I said I had and the next thing I knew I was in a studio in Belfast going out live on the 6 O’clock news. I sat with headphones on waiting for the anchor to ask me something on U2. When my headphones went live the guy starts with, “So Reverend Steve Stockman, sex and drugs and rock n roll how have U2 kept going for so long?” No time to think... so I answered “Well, I think it is the fact that they weren’t much interested in the sex and drugs so they were able to concentrate on the rock n roll” I was quite pleased with that answer. And I believe it.

U2  are still making records 45 years after Boy was released and I don't think they have lost any of their desire and passion. The key as to why, I believe, is on the first track of that debut record. Boy kicked off with the youthful post punk energy of  I Will Follow. It was about much more than artistic energy being fuelled by the naive innocent Christian faith of their late teens.

On an album of adolescent questioning and searching they nailed their manifesto with a song of belief and on every record since 1979 they have continued the follow that path they committed to. U2’s records have almost been a diary of a development of faith. Jesus never said “Believe this creed.” Or “read this liturgy.”

He said “Follow me...” It is like those two roads diverging in the middle of a life. Take the one less travelled by and it makes all the difference. It has made all the difference to U2 whose art and Grammy awards have been fuelled with the desire to keep following something more than sex and drugs and rock n roll... Few bands have followed the manifesto of their debut so diligently...

 


WATCHING SELF SACRIFICE ON A STAGE

Rich 665

(This is my script from my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on March 15, 2024... The theme for the week was Self Sacrifice)

 

One evening I actually found myself watching self sacrifice on a concert stage.

I was in Gallop, Arizona staying nearby with my friend Rich. Rich was a bit of a superstar in the world of Contemporary Christian Music. Rather than live in Nashville with all the other wealthy pop stars, Rich had decided to move to Windowrock, a Navaho reservation. He wanted to teach music to Navaho school kids.

My mates and I had had an amazing day. We drove up to Monument Valley where all the old Western movies were filmed and we made it back for a gig that Rich was doing at the end of the Navaho High School Annual Concert.

As we entered the hall we noticed Rich sitting on the left hand side and we slipped in bedside him. As we did the Navaho Boys choir got up and started to sing Rich’s biggest hit “Our God is an Awesome God”. Now I have heard some ropey church choirs but these guys were awful. I mean truly awful. I could see why Rich wanted to teach them some music.

As they were singing I leaned in and shared with Rich how terrible they were. “Not good,” he sad, shaking his head, and then added, “And later I am going to be singing with them.” 

NO! I almost shouted. You can’t do that. You have CDs out the back and you do not want to sound that bad. Bang will go your CD sales.

Thirty minutes later Rich was up there, singing with that choir. He had an amazing voice but he didn’t make that choir sound one bit better. It was grim.

BUT… for Rich it was more important that the boys in the choir got to sing with someone they so looked up to than that he sounded good and looked like a star. 

For me, that is self sacrifice right there on a stage. This was Jesus ideas of humble service and seeing others as more important than we see ourselves. Values that are not at all rare in our society but rarely as stand out and inspirational as the pop star singing with the out of tune choir.


JESUS EMPOWERS MARY... INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Mary at tomb

(this is the script of my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on March 8th, 2024... International Women's Day, the theme was Empowering Women.) 

 

In the early 80s I was a student at Queen’s University in Belfast and like most Queens’ students I went home every weekend, to get a decent meal and my clothes washed. Northern Irish mummies have a lot to answer for. 

Speaking of which - this is what would have been my mummies birthday. On International Women’s day. She’d have liked that.

Anyway, back to student days and every Friday when I took the train from Belfast to Ballymena we went right past what would become a Holywood icon.

The Delorean car that was the star of the Back To The Future films was made in a factory at Dunmurray, on the outskirts of Belfast. A time travel machine right there every week.

I often think of what date I would put in a Delorean to go back in time to. There’s one I think about every Easter Sunday.

The Easter story can be as dramatic as Doc Brown trying to get Marty McFly back to 1985

On Friday Jesus the main man is dead and on Sunday morning one of his close friends called Mary comes with some other women to his tomb. The tomb is empty. Has someone stole the body. Mary then speaks to someone that in the morning light she thinks is a gardener. 

When the gardener speaks Mary realises that it is Jesus, risen from the dead. Friday he was dead and here he is chatting to her. To be truthful I don’t want to just be there, I want to actually be Mary as she experiences that moment. Wow. Can you imagine!

Mary is then empowered by Jesus to tell the world of the news of his resurrection also to tell Jesus other followers to go to Galilee and wait for him. Mary becomes the empowerer of Jesus disciples who will become the Church. 

On International Women’s Day can I ask why there seem to be more women around the stories of Jesus birth, death and resurrection than there are in our pulpits.. 

When I get back into my Delorean and bring it back from that first Easter and park it outside my church on Easter Sunday I make sure that it is always a woman who declares “Jesus is Risen”. It is a powerful once a year reminder that women empower us all… all the time. 


FEEL THE LOVE

Valentines

(This is my script for Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2, Owain Wyn Evans' show, on February 15, 2024. The theme for the week was Feel The Love)

 

Many a card was sent. Many a flower was shipped. Many a meal was booked in the romantic little corners of restaurants. Many a champagne bottle popped. And all for extortionate prices. 

But you know, I wouldn’t fall for all the sentimental gush easily. I will bet you after all of the commercial Valentine shenanigans those who received the stuff might still not have felt the love.

Springsteen tipped me off on this. He sang, “I don't understand how you can hold me so tight and love me so darn loose…” Dylan kept the question alive, though you might have heard it via Adele - 

 

“When the rain is blowing in your face

And the whole world is on your case

I could offer you a warm embrace

To make you feel my love

 

I used to work and actually live with 88 University students. We got to hear about romances, break ups, changes of courses, favourite bands, new jobs, spiritual conundrums. We were involved in all of those young lives.

A student came to me once and told me that he didn’t feel that God loved him. Now I knew the student. I knew his family. They would have told him that God loved him. I knew the Church he went to. They would have told him God loved him. I knew that he actually taught Sunday School and told people that God loved them. So why did he not feel God loved him?

He said that Church talked about God’s love but he always felt judged by what he wore, where he went, who his friends were.

I realised that love is not about words or gestures or romantic things or Bible verses. We want and need to feel love. To be loved. As we are. As a husband, as a father, as a friend, I need to not love with gifts or words loosely. I need to love in committed and compassionate ways where all those around me FEEL my love. Love needs to be experienced. May we all feel it and indeed give it today.

 

 

 


"I SEE MYSELF..." SAID BABY CAITLIN, LOOKING RIGHT AT ME

Stocki & daughters babies

This is the script of my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Owain Wyn Evans on February 8, 2024. The theme was What Kids Can Teach Us)

 

It was a Saturday morning. Many of you will resonate with me when I say that we were a couple of knackered parents seeking every minute of shut eye we could squeeze out of the weekend. 

We only had one daughter at the time. Caitlin, our eldest, was lying between us. Then as we dozed off and on I could hear her chattering. I came to and she was staring directly into my face saying “I see myself, I see myself…” 

It took me a moment but then I worked it out. I was wearing my glasses and she could see her reflection in the glass… “ I see myself…” Ah. Very good Caitlin. Very good. Out of the mouths of babes…

After Janice and I laughed at the naïve profundity of it, I started to ponder. Truth is I have been pondering the phrase ever since. What did she see? What of me has Caitlin inherited? What will she have to overcome or live with, bless her. Quite scary.

An example. Our nose runs in our family. My Granny, my dad, me, now Caitlin all hooked to a hanky and nasal inhalers. Caitlin sadly sees herself in that one. 

Caitlin’s phrase “I see myself” actually sent me off on a deep critique of my parents DNA. An old history teacher always said that the great people in history were the ones who knew their weaknesses. As someone who attempts every day to live the life and all its fulness that Jesus offered, I am always keen to seek out my weaknesses. So what did I pick up from my mum and dad.

It’s always easy to see all the bad habits we get from our parents. So often I hear Janice repeat the words I remember my mother say in my childhood. You are in the wrong lane. The last thing I say before leaving the house is exactly the same as my mum said, “Where are my keys”. 

I am sure there are good things I have inherited as well and I am praying hard that both my daughters get more good than bad.  “I see myself…”


PRAYERS FOR STORMONT ROUND TABLE TALKS

Round Table Stormont 2

(as NI politicians gather for Round Table Talks to restore our government, I pray...)

 

Lord God,

As our politicians gather for round table talks

We ask that you plant inside of them

 

Grace

Compassion

Listening

Sensitivity

Courage

Self critique

Forgiveness

Discernment

Hope

And devoted commitment

To the best interests of ALL our people.

 

Lord we have had enough of the same old, same old

Do something new among us.

In the name of the baby Jesus, in the manger,

Amen


LIGHT IN THE DARK

Flowers Belfast

(My Pause For Thought script on the Owain Wyn Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 on December 6th... the theme was Light In The Dark...)

 

Back in the summer on a bright night we went to see The Killers playing a concert about half a mile from our house. We thought it would sound better at the concert than in our garden.

During the gig Killers frontman Brandon Flowers quoted Helen Keller: - “The world is full of suffering but the world is also filled with the over coming of suffering”. Wow, I thought. That is great. And I typed it into my smartphone…

In a speech recently Pope Francis spoke into such a world. He said,

“Remember that being happy is not having a sky without storms, a road without accidents, a job without effort, relationships without disappointments.”

He carried on,  “Use your mistakes with the serenity of the sculptor. Use pain to tune into pleasure. Use obstacles to open the windows of intelligence. Never give up on happiness, because life is an amazing show.

“Life is an amazing show”. I liked that.

Jesus was described as the light of the world and that the darkness has not over come it. 

Imagine I waken up in a strange bedroom in the middle of a winter’s night. Nature has called. Where am I? Where is the bathroom? Where did I leave that suitcase. 

If I reach out to switch on the light to help me find my way and the light doesn’t go on I don’t start screaming at the dark for being there. I expect the dark to be dark. 

No I shout at the light, a bulb or a fuse or the electricity board. It’s the light’s fault that I am in the dark.

My only hope in a world that often seems pitch black is that the light will shine. Therefore I am going to try my best to be a particle of light. Impacting the dark. Overcoming the suffering. 

No, I am not gonna howl at the moon about the dark. I am going to blame myself for not shining. I am going to ask more of myself so that I might see life as an amazing show as Pope Francis describes it about. It is there beneath the dark.


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. 


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.


DIWALI LIGHTS AND WHY I RESIGN EVERY NOVEMBER

Diwali

(This is my Pause For Thought script for the early morning of November 15, 2023... the theme was Diwali...)

 

November. For some reason over the past 30 years I have always wanted to resign from my job in November. Oh I now expect it, anticipate it and try to prepare for it but still every November everything tumbles down around me. I know that some friends feel it too.

Over the years I have wondered about this. I have come to think that maybe we arrive back from all our summer holidays and then go gung ho back at life. By November we are burned out and vulnerable. Then we turn the clock back, winter nights get cold, storms like Debbie crash in on our souls as much as our roofs and trees. November is long dark nights without a Christmas at its end.

Makes me a little jealous this week of our Hindu and Muslim friends as they celebrate Diwali, lights in the dark. As a Christian I have another 40 days and nights to wait for Jesus and his light.

Just as those celebrating Diwali will be lighting small lamps in homes and streets I am often calling my church community to be particles of light across the city of Belfast. Every day in work or leisure, in offices and hospitals and schools and shops and gyms and cafes and parks and houses we are called to be little candle flickers of light. Jesus said he was the light and then turned to his followers to tell them they were the light.  

After decades of succumbing to dark November’s I have come to fight it with another idea. The long dark winter nights are the ones when a light is most needed and makes the most impact. There is no point in shining a light into a warm bright sunny blue summer’s sky. Light makes the difference in the dark. In the deep November dark a particle or candle flicker of light can make the biggest difference.

And so when our inner world is dark, a word, a gesture, a kindness, a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, a particles of light can stop us resigning. 

As I wish my neighbours Happy Diwali, I hear Jesus call me to be a light in the thickest darkness of these November days.