PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

MY BEST BARGAIN LEADS ME TO JESUS

Hard Days

(the script of my BBC 2 Radio Pause For Thought on December 1st, 2022... the theme for the week was My Best Bargain)

 

Bargains. I love bargains. As a music fan I have searched bargain bins all over the world, to find that rare gem as cheap as possible. We even had a Bargain Bin Fellowship which every Monday trawled the Belfast record stores seeking. 

I remember when my then girlfriend, now wife Janice, lived in London. I’d leave her at work in Wimbledon and get my underground all day pass and travel every shop I knew in Soho, Newport Street, Notting Hill, Camden… checking the bargain price before looking at the title or artist. Coming back with a treasure trove, most of which I still have.

The biggest bargain though. Early summer 1976 I literally bargained with my mate Colin. I am not sure what I offered him in a ropey pile of uninteresting 7” singles… BUT in return I purloined not 1 or 2 or 3 BUT 4 Beatles albums! They had been his uncles. Colin must have thought outdated. They became my future.

Here’s the thing. When I got them home and played I Should Have Known Better from A Hard Days Night I opened up a life time love of all things Fab 4. A love as passionate almost 50 years after as when I first set Help on my turntable.

BUT more than that, because of my mid teens saturation in all things Beatles, I started to ask existentialist questions. I came to love All You Need Is Love or Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance. The Beatles asked the questions my developing mind wanted to ask.

Yet, though I loved their questions The Beatles lacked something in the answers. As songwriter Larry Norman put it “The Beatles said all you need is love and then they broke up”. 

A couple of years later my mate Philip mentioned Jesus. After a long suspicious look at what Jesus said and did, I was convinced that here was someone not only with answers but maybe the power to make the answers work. I even thought he probably looked like a 1970 John Lennon. 

I am also still as passionate about Jesus all these decades later. 

So, one sunny afternoon. One bit of teenage bargaining. One life changed for ever. I wouldn’t be on with you Nikki this morning but for grabbing those 4 precious slabs of Beatles vinyl. I love bargains!


REACHING OUT... DOES GOD REACH BACK?

Cindy

(this is my Pause For Thought script on November 14th 2022 on BBC Radio 2 with Nikki Chapman... The theme was Reaching Out)

 

I had been in South Africa leading teams of University students for six weeks. I was weary mentally and physically and we were less than 48 hours from heading home and most wonderfully a holiday.

In this penultimate day we were reaching out to women dying of AIDS on the Guguletu Township on the Cape Flats on the edge Cape Town.

We found ourselves in a bleak room, Cindy’s bedroom. Cindy was a beautiful young woman dying like so very many others around her of this awful disease. We shared a gift package with her and as we were about to leave the young pastor we were with Jevon suggested that he prayed for Cindy. As I often do in such situations I reached out and touched Cindy’s shoulder as Jevon prayed. 

Jesus suggested that the most important things his followers could do was to reach out to the homeless, the naked, the hungry, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner. When we reached out and helped these marginalised people Jesus said we would be doing it to him.

I often saw those last words as just poetic flourish that Jesus used at the end of his story.

BUT when I reached out to Cindy it changed my thinking. When I opened my eyes after Jevon said Amen I had the strangest feeling. I felt refreshed. It was like the weariness was gone. I came out of the house and my assistant Lynn asked how I had found it. I don’t know, I muttered, but I don’t want to go home. Let’s stay for another month. 

Could it have been that when I reached out to Cindy and did this for her I actually was doing it for Jesus.

After I got home someone told me that they had been reading the psychologist Larry Crabb who said we didn’t fix ourselves when we concentrated on making ourselves better. In the light of my moments with Cindy it made perfect sense. In attempting, even in vain, to help someone else I had found God reaching out to help me.


RESERVING JUDGEMENT

Reserve Judgement

(this is the script from this morning's Pause For Thought on BBC RADIO 2... the theme was Reserving Judgement... thank you Chris for his permission...)

 

I should have reserved judgement the first time I met my good friend Chris. When he arrived in our student residence hall that I looked after as a University Chaplain he seemed a little rough around the edges. My Asst Chaplain Lynn and I kept our eye on him. 

About a year later we feared our judgements were correct. We were taking teams of students to Cape Town to help build houses with a well known charity. Chris committed to come and help and then at the first preparation evening Chris went to the pub instead.

Lynn and I called an emergency meeting with him - one to one. We asked him what was he thinking. Was he committed to the team? Either he was in or he wasn’t. He needed to shape up or he was out of the trip.

Chris sorted it. Indeed on that trip to Cape Town he not only proved himself as a brilliant builder but a real team player. We took him back the next time and two years after that we invited Chris onto our Chaplaincy Team as an intern. 

I guess I could end there but I shouldn’t. On that third trip to Cape Town my assistant Lynn shared with me that she and Chris had got very fond of each other. On the next trip they got engaged at the top of table mountain and today they are happily married with 3 lovely daughters. 

I would say that Chris, who we had all been unsure of when he arrived in our community, eventually became the most trustworthy, selfless and caring member of that community, actually marrying the Asst Chaplain.

Thinking about Chris makes me think of that motley crew that hung around Jesus. The Pharisees didn’t reserve their judgement on the disciples calling them gluttons, drunkards and sinners. I mean Peter. Boy was he rough around the edges. Jesus though was reserved in his judgement.

He reserved it not because Peter wasn’t deserving of it – he even betrayed Jesus three times. No, Jesus was reserving judgement because he could see not just who Peter was at a certain moment but who Peter could one day become.

Chris taught me not to look at the now but at the who they might become. He moved from the bad boy to the groom… so I’ll always reserve my judgement.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II - A REFLECTION (Pause for Thought)

Queen and Martin McG

(This is my script on Pause For Thought on BBC RADIO 2 this morning... The theme, needless to say, was Reflecting on Queen Elizabeth II...)

 

The new King, Charles III, was welcomed into Northern Ireland yesterday.  I didn’t get to see him but I hear my cousin climbed a ladder and did! I think the only time that I actually saw Queen Elizabeth II was in Edinburgh. It was the Commonwealth Games in 1970. I was 8 years old. I knew it was a big thing. 

As I was growing up The Queen was all about sport. FA Cup Finals and of course that big day in 1966 when England won the World Cup and Bobby Moore cleaned his hands on the cloth just seconds before shaking her hands as she handed him Jules Rimet.

As years went by Queen Elizabeth seemed to appear less at Cup Finals and I became a little cynical about what a Queen could really do. 

And then in 2011 she made a visit to Ireland. My apathetic cynicism had me dismissing the visit as another lovely walk about from an old lady with nice hats and a fascinating way to hold a hand bag…

BUT then… suddenly I was watching a women acting prophetically into the centuries old divisions in Ireland.

Britain and Ireland have been inflicting pain and heartache upon one another for hundreds of years. The Queen herself felt the deep loss when her husband’s favourite uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA, blown up on his boat off the Donegal coast in 1979. 

Yet in Dublin in 2011 Queen Elizabeth made symbolic gestures that spoke powerfully of forgiveness and reconciliation. Laying a wreath at the War Memorial for Irish soldiers who fought in the War Of Independence against Britain, starting a major speech in Irish at Dublin Castle and visiting GAA headquarters at Croke Park where British soldiers had opened fire on the crowd and players in 1920. 

These were seismic symbols. The queen suddenly had my attention as she continued this courageous work of reconciliation, a year after Dublin she shook hands with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

That Queen that I thought was ineffectual was a prophet for our times, building her prophetic message on the God she trusted in, the Bible where she found her values and the Jesus that she followed, whose own work on earth was centred on forgiveness and reconciliation.

I always feel that the days around death are sacred. We tell stories. We laugh. We cry. And I am always leaning in to hear any lessons for my life that I can learn from the one who has just passed. Queen Elizabeth has left me so many. 


FINALLY MAKING PRIZE DAY, 40 YEARS AFTER I LEFT SCHOOL!

Stocki 16

(My script for Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on September 7th 2022. The them for there week was Back To School...)

 

I got the very best way to go back to school. When I was at school I always dreamed that one day I would be invited back as the Guest Speaker at Prize Day. Prize Day speakers all seemed to be successful at sport - which I wanted to be - or at something else. Prize Day speakers had made it.

Well no, you didn’t somehow miss it when I won The Open or a gold medal at the Olympics or led Northern Ireland at Wembley… I didn’t… BUT I got the invite. I was Prize Day Guest Speaker and it was amazing. My mum sitting proudly in the front row, just six weeks before she passed away.

In my speech I shared with the Prize winners some things that had happened in the very assembly hall where we were now gathered. I fell in love with the Beatles at my very first School Christmas party. I fell on my backside behind the curtains as stage manager at a School Concert.

Two other moments deeply impacted my life. While I was DJing a Sixth Form party - the dancing caused the needle to jump on the record player on the stage. Not good. As we moved it to safer place I took the abuse from my baying peers. Worst moment of my life but the next day someone said to me that if I could stand in front of that crowd, I could stand in front of any crowd. That was good to know!

And once after I got to speak in Assembly my headmaster complimented me and said “you didn’t insult their intelligence”. That was the best advice I was ever given on preaching. 

But for me the best bit was that it was the very first time I had been to Prize Day. I even started my speech by suggesting that now that I had been to one, I would still rather be doing what I used to do. Us non Prize winners all got the afternoon off, I’d have been playing football by now.

I actually thought that my story would have been better shared with those who hadn’t got a prize. I was proof that you didn’t need a prize while at school to make something of yourself later in life.

To paraphrase Jesus words - the first can be last and the last might end up first… and be back to school for Prize Day!

 

Read My Prize Day Speech HERE


THE MIRROR, THE BEAST & ME

Beast

(This is my script from Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on August 29th 2022... the theme was Best Automated Films...)

 

I was marrying Ryan and Anna. I always tell wedding couples to choose their own favourite hymns and readings because then I can get a flavour of who they are and can share my short address personally to them.

Ryan and Anna chose great hymns and readings but other songs at the end of the service caught me eye. Their friend Fal was going to sing a NEEDTOBREATHE song Clear, as they signed the register, and then the Mumford & Sons’ song I Will Wait, as they walked down the aisle.

So, I preached a 3 point address to the newly weds based on Mumford & Sons songs with a wee dollop of NEEDTOBREATHE. 

When I came to my NEEDTOBREATHE song I said that Clear was a great but I’d like to quote from another of their songs called Banks. Anna and Ryan smiled before breaking into my sermon to say that that was their first dance. 

That a 60 year old could be so on it to quote from a couple of 20 somethings first dance, during their wedding sermon. It is the coolest thing in my entire ministry!

The song Banks has a line that goes “And if you ever feel like you are not enough/I’m gonna break all your mirrors”…

How many times do I need my mirror broken. I look in and see my reflection - physically, mentally, socially and culturally - as less than I’d like it to be.

It is why I love the film Beauty and The Beast. The Beast’s relationship to a mirror wouldn’t be great. The Beauty metaphorically breaks the Beast’s mirror.  She loves him as he is and in loving him turns him handsome. 

That might be what I love most about my faith in Jesus. Jesus walked the planet for about 33 years and his entire life was telling and showing people that he loved them as they were and, once loved, they turned good. 

Zaccheus was a tax collector and outcast, a collaborator with the oppressive Roman Empire. He looked in the mirror and saw shame, guilt, disdain. Jesus broke Zaccheus’s mirror, invited himself dinner and Zaccheus changed, inside out.

Most mornings I look in the mirror and see beast. I am so thankful to Jesus, my wife Janice and others who break my mirror and love me into something better.  


A VISION FOR BELFAST

Belfast

THE PROPHET’S SPEECH (From “Garden To The City”)

(My Belfast paraphrase of a Doug Gay original based in Glasgow…) 

  

I saw a vision – it was Thursday at eleven o’clock in the morning.

I was standing Divis Mountain, looking down over the city

And the cold, blue autumn sky broke open over my head

And the spirit of God breathed on my eyes and my eyes were opened:

I saw Belfast, the holy city coming down out of heaven

Shining like a rare jewel, sparkling like clear water in the eye of the sun

And all the sickness was gone from the city

And there were no suburbs or schemes

No difference between Malone Road, Lenadoon and Tullycarnet.

 

I saw the Lagan running with the water of life

As bright as crystal

As clear as glass

And the children of Belfast swimming in it.

And the Spirit showed me the tree of life

Growing in Botanic Gardens.

 

I looked out 

And there were no more homeless people dying

There were no women working the streets

There were no junkies up the alley ways

HIV and AIDS were things of the past

There were no more racist attacks

No more attacks on gay people

No more rapists

No more stabbings

No more suicides

No more so called “punishment beatings”

No more Protestant and Catholics

No more sectarian songs and graffiti

No more effigies on bonfires

Because there was no more hate

And I saw women walking safe at nights

And the men were full of passion and gentleness

And none of the children were abused

Because the people’s sex was full of justice and joy.

 

I saw an old woman throw her head back and laugh like a young girl

And when the sky closed back her laughter rang in my head for days and days

And would not go away.

 

This is what I saw, looking over Samson and Goliath

Looking up from the city of death

And I knew then that there would be a day of resurrection

And I believe that there will be a day of resurrection.


INTER-DEPENDENCE NOT INDEPENDENCE

Lambo

(this is the script of my Pause for Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on July 6th 2022... The theme was My Independence Day)

 

I used to use this crazy illustration of independence when I was I trying to catch the attention of teenagers… way back in the day. 

I would get them to imagine that they had a beautiful Lamborghini. I’d get them to drive it up their nearest mountain and find a straight road back down. Turn the Lamborghini. Open a window. Get out. Reach in… and put the gear into neutral… and let off the hand break.

Now, watch that independent Lamborghini set out alone. Free to do what it likes. Watch as it picks up speed. Wow. Then watch as it makes for the first corner… oops… straight over the hedge into a field and… watch it roll… 

Independence it appears doesn’t work for a Lamborghini. It needs a driver. To reach its full potential as a very expensive sports car… inter-dependence is the better way.

I am not a great fan of independence. I think it is over rated. Maybe misunderstood. I think it is confused with freedom. 

Many think our human freedoms are reached by independence. I think we’re more like Lamborghinis.

I am a fan of inter dependence. In every important aspect of my life… “home, faith and work”, to quote my favourite Deacon Blue song, I am a better human for my inter-dependence.

I reckon the South African Xhosa tribe have got this one right, in their most famous word Ubuntu. Ubuntu means that to be fully me I need everybody else.

I think this is what Jesus was on about when he said that we should love God and our neighbour. He even went as far as saying that we should love our enemies. Jesus reckoned that we need to be inter-dependent to find the full potential of our own humanity. We cannot be who we were made to be without healthy relationships with others.

So in family. The right inter-dependence with Janice helps me become the human I should be. In faith my dependence on God is crucial to fulfilment. Vocationally my inter-dependence with a staff team, church leaders and even congregation is vital for me to do what I was born to do. 

Without inter-depedence to all of them I cannot be fully me!


WALKING IS THE PACE OF THE SOUL - MENTAL WELLBEING

Night Night BC

(This is the script of my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2, on June 29th 2022... The theme was Mental Wellbeing)

 

I coined a phrase last year that says “we sometimes don’t learn what we have learned”. We learned so much over these last two strange years. Are we going to travel on into whatever the new normal is and leave the learning behind.

I mean surely most of us rediscovered how good a walk is for our mental wellbeing.

They say that when we walk we move at the same pace as the soul. If that is true, I need to slow down. The diary flies - planes, trains and automobiles and all that. 

Personally I find that my mental health is closely connected to my emotional health and even closer to my spiritual health.

I had an interesting experience last summer. I have mentioned before how much my wife Janice and I love Ballycastle beach on Antrim’s north coast.

For some reason this particular evening I was walking back home along the beach on my own. My soul had last slowed down to the right pace but I still had my head racing. 

I can only describe it as God shouting at me when I sensed someone saying that I needed to get rid of the ear phones. So, I hastily turned off the recent Wallflowers record and breathed in.

Suddenly I was able to take in all that was going on around me. From the distractions cluttering my life I started focusing in on every refraction of sea and sand and sky.

Turning off the music I got to listen, to really listen to the quiet of the ocean’s big blue wonder. Of course it wasn’t silent. But the quiet rhythms of the sea. Gentle waves landing and then that sweet soothing sounds of water lapping on the shoreline. 

The sand Martin were swooping down around and back. The sun was doing that wonderful thing it does before it says goodnight, throwing a beam of light across the sea. I felt I could nearly walk across it.

It was like I’d tuned in to the earth’s allure, the night sky’s encryption. It was like God had prayed a benediction of blessing over my mind and heart and soul. When I got home I felt so refreshed.

More of it over this summer time. 


MY FAVOURITE REFUGEE

Awer

(this is the script of my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2, on 22.6.22... The theme was Refugee Week... England gets mentioned as it was on national BBC...) 

 

Awer Mabil has to be my current favourite refugee.

Awer’s parents fled the war in Sudan in 1996 and he spent 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp until they were given a home in Australia. There’s a great movie called The Good Lie that tells a similar story though the children in that movie end up in America.

So Australia welcomed Awer without knowing… and how could they know… what he would do for the nation. 

Just 9 days ago Awer lined up in the Australian soccer team against Peru in a World Cup Qualifying Play Off. The winners would go to the World Cup Finals. 

It went to penalties. It was 4 all and went to sudden death. The player who took the long walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot to take the sudden death penalty was… you guessed it Awer Mabil… he scored… Peru missed… and Mabil had just scored the goal that takes Australia to Qatar. 

Afterwards he said, “It was the only way to say thank you to Australia on behalf of my family,”…

What an amazing way for a refugee to thank their adopted country. 

It is also a challenge to a country to wonder who it is that you might be welcoming in and what they might end up doing for the nation.

The Bible warns about being careful how we entertain strangers. It says that some have entertained angels unaware. 

There’s a story about an Abbot of a monastery who was having great divisions among his fractious brothers. He had heard about another monastery where relationships were very peaceable. He went for a visit. Sure enough it was almost perfectly harmonious. Everyone humbly serving one another. 

So he asked the Abbot how this was. “Well,” said the Abbot “I have told them all that one of them is Jesus but no one knows which one of them he is so they all treat each other as if the other is Jesus. 

It’s no stretch. Jesus told his disciples that when they were looking after the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the stranger they were looking after him. 

Imagine if as a nation we treated every refugee like they were Jesus who was actually for a refugee for a while.

Who knows England might end up winning penalty shoot outs.