PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

WHEN MY RADIO SHOW TOUCHED A SOUL... POWER OF RADIO!

Stocki in Beeb

(my Pause For Thought script on October 14, 2021. The theme was The Power of Radio...)

I was at a wedding. During the reception a woman approached me. She was from a different part of Northern Ireland. We had never met. She reached out her hand (remember the olden days) and introduced herself. She said that I didn’t know her but she wanted to thank me.

Thank me. What on earth for. She went on to tell me that a few years before she had come across my radio show Rhythm and Soul while travelling in her car. It had been Remembrance Day and I had filled my show with laments, songs of death and remembering. She didn’t need that and was just about to switch off but before she reached the off button she was captivated by the song that I was playing. 

She explained that she was travelling home after the death of her husband. She was obviously in a fragile and vulnerable place. Songs of war and death was the last thing she needed BUT she went on to say that that hour was very precious to her. She told me that those songs spoke into her grieving soul. She had always wanted to thank me and here I was.

I was very moved. The power of radio. I had probably sat all afternoon glancing across my CD collection for the right songs for that show but I had no idea that someone would be listening in those particular circumstances. It is humbling.

Before I preach I always pray that God will take the skeletons and bare bones of my thoughts and put upon them the flesh and the muscle of the Holy Spirit that that my thoughts might come alive and twist and twirl a broken world around in an extravagant dance of healing and hope and good news. That prayer was certainly answered on that radio show.

I call them angelic moments beyond coincidence and such moments can happen even without radios. Arriving at the right time. Saying the right word. 

After I finish I am off to the ferry and then the 402 mile drive from Cairnryan in Scotland to Reading. My daughter Jasmine is at University there and it is her 21st on Sunday, a week after her dad’s 60th. The journey and our schedule is a skeleton. As we set out I pray for the flesh and muscle of love in every meeting scheduled or accidental. I better get going… turn on the radio.


MY DAUGHTERS REBEL OVER HOLIDAY DESTINATION

Onialeku Kids

(My Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on September 30th 2021. The theme was Favourite Tourist Destination)

 

Favourite tourist destinations. The Stockmans have been blessed. In 2005 got to spend 3 months in Vancouver and between 2002 and 2008 we had four big chunks of time in Cape Town. 

We do this blending of vacation with vocation in our lives. Vancouver was a sabbatical while I was Writer In Residence at Regent College. Cape Town was leading teams of University students to help build houses with Habitat For Humanity.

A few years ago we were looking at another sabbatical and Janice and I thought Vancouver again. I set up a house swap with another minister. He described a house by the Pacific Ocean and a church that would only want to know if I would sail or play golf! When I said I’d just like to walk around and hope I’d bump into novelist Douglas Coupland he replied that he lived down the street!

So Janice started cleaning the house for the house swap. We go excited. Stanley Park, Granville Island, Grouse Mountain, Kitsilano. 

Then… well then the daughters rebelled. 

“We’re not going daddy…”

“What?!?! You loved Vancouver”

“You and mum can go but we are going to Onialeku”

Where’s Onialeku I hear you say. It’s in Arua on the north west edge of Uganda. Our Church had funded a school that we had visited the year before this hoped for sabbatical! 

“How are you going to change the world on Kitsilano beach”, my 16 year old preached back at her parents!

So… Ross, Laura and their family lived in our house the summer of 2016 but we weren’t anywhere near the Pacific Ocean.

We were on a playground on the edge of Uganda. We’ve been back again and again since then and whenever this pandemic clears in East Africa that is the very first tourist destination on our list. 

300 children who seem to have nothing to offer a holiday brochure but who have given us more deep down joy than we’ve found on beaches, up mountains, in swimming pools!

Changing the world Jasmine supposed. I don’t know about how we have changed Onialeku but I know for very sure that it has changed us… I do wonder if that is one of Jesus main aims when he asks us to serve others. It is about Changing us. Even as to how teenagers choose their tourist destinations. 


WHAT AM I THANKFUL FOR? (WORLD GRATITUDE DAY)

Stocki in Beeb

(My Pause For Thought on Vanessa Feltz, BBC Radio 2 on September 23rd 2021... The theme as "What am I grateful for"....)

 

What am I thankful for.

Oh my. Where do I begin. My wife Janice, my daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. Living in the beauty of Ireland. Trips to Africa. Faith. Vocation.

BUT… it is Organ Donation Week so there are people I want to take an opportunity to thank on national radio. 

I am so thankful to all organ donor and their families and particularly four families… who agreed to give the liver of their loved ones… that kept our young friend Lucia Quinney Mee alive for 12 years until she passed away in May 2020 after attempting to overcome a fourth transplant.

Lucia was a soul mate to our daughters. She was like one of the family. She got her first liver at just 8 years old in Birmingham Children’s Hospital in 2007 and her fourth liver in King’s Hospital, London the day before New Year’s Eve 2019. 

In the twelve years between with the help of those donated livers Lucia lived the most incredible, inspirational life. 

She became a swimming star at British and World Transplant Games. Gold medals were plentiful. She carried the Olympic torch in 2012.

She set up a campaign called Live Loudly, Donate Proudly that encourages people to donate organs. She wrote great blogs. In 2016 she organised a Gala Dinner for Transplant charities and her speech was so mature and articulate. 

In 2017 she was one of the youngest ever in the Queens New Year’s Honour’s List, receiving a British Empire Medal. She also got to have lunch with the Queen herself.

There were also parties and pop concerts and all the stuff a young woman does. In spite of all she had to go through Lucia lived loudly… and more than that selflessly. 

In the pool she swam for her donors whom she never knew but never forgot. She wanted others to have the gift of life she was given. She was a world changer. 

Today I want to thank, though I don't know who they are, the donors' families that allowed Lucia to become so precious to us. More days to smile. More days to love. What a gift!

To give life through your death. It has almost a Jesus’ Gospel massiveness to it. 

And so… I am so grateful to everyone who has donated organs but particularly Lucia’s unknown four. Thank you so much.


TO BE SOMEONE WHO MAKES YOU FEEL BEAUTIFUL...

Iain and Gary

(This is my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on 21.6.21... the theme was who would I invite to a picnic on National Picnic Week... I took the chance to wish my mate a Happy Birthday)

 

Picnic week. My wife loves a good picnic. She loves getting everything ready. Flasks of coffee and plastic spoons and knives. Sandwiches, cake, crisps all in a picnic basket… or two. 

Then its Dunserverick Harbour, on the north Antrim coast, near the Giant’s Causeway. Its off the beaten track, just couple of picnic tables… you can tuck in, while the water laps in maybe a few canoers just out from shore…

I, however, am a grumpy old man. Picnics mean flies, wasps on my sandwich. But even I am looking forward to one in the next few weeks…

Who’d I invite. Jesus is a bit obvious but he’d be great if the food ran out… or the wine for that matter. Nelson Mandela but he’s not available. Barack Obama seems like good company and Janice would enjoy Michelle. Paul and Nancy McCartney would be amazing.

BUT in the end… Today, the longest day of the year 2021 is my friend Iain Archer’s 50th Birthday. You probably haven’t heard of Iain but you know his work. I bet Vanessa has played his songs. Among many others, Iain co-wrote Run with his mates Snow Patrol, Lightning Bolt with Jake Bugg and Hold Back The River with James Bay.

Iain has been a good friend for nearly 30 years and it would be amazing to have him, his wife Miriam and their twins Reuben and Eden up the coast to celebrate. Janice would have birthday cake.

With little live music in 15 months I’d ask Iain to bring his guitar. Miriam plays and sings with Snow Patrol too and the kids are pretty darn good. A favourite song on our Family Playlists is Frozen Lake where Iain sings “I want to be someone who makes you feel beautiful/I want to be someone who covers you with love”.

I love that. Of course it is a love song but it is so much more. It’s like a mission statement, like a paraphrase of Jesus love your neighbour. It’s what I want to do in the day. Make everyone I meet feel beautiful. Cover them with love. 

Happy 50th dear friend.   


BEING WITH MY DAD IN HIS DEMENTIA - PAUSE FOR THOUGHT 14.6.21

Me and dad

(My Pause For Thought with Vanessa on BBC Radio 2; 14.6.21)

 

The high jump. The Fosbury Flop. Golf. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Football. Newcastle United, even though I chose Manchester City. 

These were the things my father taught me. The things we talked about. Even in the early days of dementia these were the words that I used to find traction as a father figure who spent his life as an accountant could no longer add up the figures.

Time is an invisible memory bank. It turns and burns and churns. Time is like a tornado with nothing in control of it.

Time always seems to leak too fast. It breaks and cracks and takes away.

Time has worn my Father out. It has eroded his memories. The words that resonated. Time has brought him down a cul-de-sac with no turning circle back again.

In the last few centuries we humans have spent a lot of time trying to fix everything. This week we heard about a break through in dementia medicine. It would be great if we could fix it.

It’s too late for my dad. Time will not rewind. Fosbury Flops or Jack Nicklaus will never click again. What time has done to my father cannot be fixed. All I can do is be with him. Sit and chit chat. Talk nonsense. Sure I do that for a living.

Rev Sam Wells points out in his book The Nazareth Manifesto that God didn’t fix everything. But he always promised to be with. Wells points out that Jesus spent 30 out of his 33 years just being with people. 90% of God’’s time on earth was not fixing. It was just being with. Jesus even had another name Emmanuel which means God with us.

It’s quite a thought. It is a thought that keeps me going in every difficult visit I have with my father. Just being with him might actually be enough.

 


MY HONOURS LIST, A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT DRAMA & A SONG

Honours List

This morning's Pause for Thought had a little extra drama. I didn't seem to be switched through to the studio so when Vanessa came looking for me down the line I couldn't hear her.

What that meant was that the song that they had planned to play after my Thought was played before my Thought.

Now that song always intrigues me and sometimes fits beautifully but I am not sure any of this ongs chosen for after my Pause For Thought over 10 years was more appropriate than this morning's.

Even more fascinatingly I had never heard the song before. I was taken immediately by the lyrics:

"God only knows what you've been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it's killing you
But there's a kind of love that God only knows"

They fitted perfectly a familiar Pause For Thought from me. The theme this week was Your Honours List as we wait for the Queen's.

 

I used to have my own Honours. Every Christmas morning. Santa would bring me new felt tip pens and I would use all the colours to pick my Footballer of the Year - Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart or Peter Barnes, favourite TV show - probably Alias Smith & Jones; Album of the Year - Wings Over America and later Blondie’s Parallel Lines

Honours are the ways of the world. Those who do well get the promotion, the prize, the MBE… The rest of us. Well we have to live with not being the best, not so good.. ah sure it is the world we live in… the first are first… they get the honours… then there are the rest of us… 

Well actually that world of the first being first probably causes all our insecurities, inferiority complexes and keep psychotherapists in their jobs. It is hard to live in such a graceless world.

What if there was another world. What if the Queens Honours were not earned but she just gave them out to anyone. Not because of achievements but just because she valued everyone the same. The world run by grace… almost a mad idea… 

In her novel Gilead Marilynne Robinson writes about grace. She says, “It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.  Love is holy because it is like grace, the worthiness of its object is never really what matters’ 

Robinson’s words are like a depth charge for the heart and soul while tingling the head on the way through?

Love as something beyond the world, breaking into the temporal. Love, beyond our default comprehensibility.

It is the beast being loved in his ugliness and thus transformed into a handsome prince.

It is amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

It is like all of us getting named in the Queens Birthday Honours list.

 

I later discovered that God Only Knows was a song by the American duo For King and Country. I am not sure about that title but hey! 

I was then surprised to hear that the band were a Contemporary Christian band. That is not a common genre on BBC Radio 2. I then realised that they were the Smallbone brothers, whose sister is CCM 90's icon Rebecca St. James (I wasn't a fan but hey...) 

God Only Knows though is a great song. Dolly Parton has even sung it with the boys. It certainly fitted perfectly this morning and perhaps even more perfect for being played first...


HOW HOW MAKE THE BEAST BEAUTIFUL - THE POWER OF LOVE!

Beauty-and-the-Beast-2017-after-credits-hq-zioaby

(my BBC Radio 2 Pause For Thought with Vanessa Feltz on February 12th 2021... the weekly theme for the weekend that is in it was The Power Of Love)

 

We live in a world where the first are first. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Imagine some lazy student scoring 27 in their finals and getting a First while a diligent student gets 86 and is failed. We go to court to maintain the justice of the first being first!

Everywhere we look - sport, the arts, politics, business - the first are first.

It is the same in our own lives. If want to find a place, feel accepted, loved if you like. Everything is achieved. Even romantic love is about looks or fashion or sense of cool. The first are always first.

That makes it a graceless world. Gracelessness is powerful. It leads to insecurities, inferiority complexes and all kinds of feelings that could bring us down. The first are first seems right BUT might be the wrong thing for our mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

Imagine though the world that Jesus was conjuring up. He spoke about a world where the first were last and the last were first. Now that is upside down. Perhaps more than a little bit unfair but maybe a real relief to all our striving and struggling.

There are many kinds of love. My fellow Belfast man CS Lewis named 4 and I am not sure he got them all. For me the most powerful is Jesus idea of grace. In his radical way of looking at the world you don’t need to achieve or be first or best looking to be recognised or loved. You are loved. Just as you are.

Grace fuels forgiveness, energises compassion for the poor, can break down barriers with enemies. Grace forgives.

Before all this it is personal. Grace is that Christian idea that God’s love is a gift, not earned. It loves us as we are and in that has the power to transform us into who we can be. 

It is not just a Christian idea. Disney believes it too. In the classic film Beauty and The Beast the Beast only becomes beautiful when he knows that he is loved in his ugliness. By grace the last became first. Powerful!


I AM WHO I AM

Stocki and Jani (long hair)

(My Pause For Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on February 5, 2021... the theme was I Am Who I Am...)

 

I am who I am has got me into some scrapes. 

You see I have a great radio face. Some people’s image of Rev Stockman down the line from Fitzroy Presbyterian probably doesn’t include a five day stubble, long hair (I got 4-6 inches off last week), perpetual rock band t-shirt and worn out denims. Let’s say I am careful to look as careless as possible.

In my 20s and thirties, add pony tail and ear ring and I had some serious trouble getting through any kind of customs. 

A ferry from Dublin to Holyhead was the funniest tale. As we disembarked and walked through customs I was pulled aside. Nothing new there. My then girlfriend, now wife, Janice stopped too.

The customs lady looked at me, then Janice, back to me, then Janice and says in utter disbelief “ are you together?” We laugh and say yes and she goes, “have you just met on the boat?” Oh her consternation! We have laughed ever since.

I remember another at Heathrow. She took my ticket that had been bought by the Church so it had Rev on it. REV always raised their suspicions. 

She hands back all calm and says, “what do you do for a living sir.” 

I smile knowing her game and laugh by saying “I am a minister”. 

“Not many look like you” she adds. 

As I walk away I say “you don’t think Jesus had short back and sides now do you” 

It was at a big Church event. I had just been ordained. I responded by getting my hair cut, buying a pair of chinos and a golf sweater! I was getting a photo taken with all these ministers in all their gear. In that moment I heard God say

“What are you doing

Don’t conform

Be the you I made you to be”

Jesus once said I have come to give you life in all its fulness. I have lived my life seeking that out every single day. It seems to me that no matter what customs officials think or church leaders for that matter. That fulness comes in my being who God made and redeemed me to be. I am who I am. And we’ll laugh at the stories that brings!


WHEN I ACCIDENTALLY QUOTED HAMILTON...

Hamilton-37922

(my Pause For Thought On Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 29, 2021... The theme was Musicals as that was a them for the entire BBC this week...)

 

Amanda Gorman. Since the inauguration of Joe Biden I have been utterly captivated by that young poet. Was she not amazing?

And above all her wonder she got me some cool cred with my daughters! 

You see, I am not going to lie, I hate musicals. I am a huge massive music fan but musicals are too contrived, to unrealistic. Just not a fan.

I am no fan of musicals and My daughters love them. Both are huge Hamilton fans.

Well… within minutes of Amanda Gorman’s poem I was speaking at a public event on Zoom. I was so full of her poem that I quoted her. Within an hour a friend had complimented my little speech and added and told me I had quoted Hamiltion without even realising.” 

What? No I didn’t.

Turns out I did. I texted Caitlin and Jasmine all chuffed with myself!

You see I quoted Amanda Gorman quoting the Old Testament prophet Micah with the same quote that is quoted in Hamilton.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

I have loved this verse of Scripture since I used to regularly visit a Fair Trade Vineyard in South Africa. In most other South African vineyards the grape pickers have few rights, they live on the vineyard and can be sacked and thrown off at any whim of the owner.

This image of the safety, security, ownership and equality of everyone sitting contentedly under their own vine. I love that sense of shalom. That is the world that I long to live in.

I can see why it is used in a musical about a man’s ascent out of poverty. I can see why Amanda Gorman who described herself as a skinny black kid, descended from slavery and brought up by a single mother would use it. Apparently George Washington used it a lot.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

Personally, I want to give my life to see such a day… and I’m delighted that it makes my daughters think I’m a musical quoting dad!


WHEN I ABSENTED MYSELF FROM THE POWER OF PRAYER

Buthelezi

(My script for Pause For Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 22nd 2021. The theme was The Power of Prayer)

 

I remember once I absented myself from the power of prayer. I was doing prayers in the church I belonged to. As I walked up to the lectern I was debating if I could pray the prayer. I had my notes with me. It was written on my notes. But I wasn’t sure I could say it. Did I believe it enough to pray it. Should I? Do it Steve. Hope. Faith. Believe. 

I didn’t say it! It was April 17th 1994. 9 days before South Africa’s first post apartheid elections. BUT there were not going to be elections because Chief Buthelezi’s of the Inkatha Freedom Party was refusing to stand and if he didn’t it was all heading to the ditch.

I copped out. I didn’t want to pray what wouldn’t happen. My faith was too weak. I can’t remember what I did pray BUT I left Buthelezi off my notes.

A couple of days later, I walk into my office and my colleague David greets me with a “So Buthelezi’s in.” WHAAAAT?!?! I froze, not only in disbelief but in horror of my lack of faith.

A couple of years later I discovered that on the day I didn’t pray Buthelezi was at a prayer rally in Durban. It was at this prayer rally that he decided to stand for election. 

Darn it. This was a major moment in history and when I decided not to pray for it I bailed out of the power of prayer that shaped it. 

After 50 years of praying, Prayer is for the most part still a bit of a mystery to me BUT it seems to me that it puts us in some kind of partnership with God. 

It is firstly a conversation with God, potent in itself. BUT then, I believe, there is this other power to it, a power that seems to be able to look on the inevitable and somehow interrupt it with transformation. After the Buthelezi moment I am keen to go for broke! Not being involved in the power of prayer taught me a lesson about the power of prayer.