PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

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.


A WINTER PICK ME UP - KEEP MOVING

FROZEN 2 3

(This is my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2's Vanessa Show on January 12, 2021... the theme was Winter Pick Me Ups...)

 

Goodness it has been cold recently. Of course I am further north than the majority of you.

Last Saturday I went out for the afternoon dog walk. After fifty yards the cold wind cut so deep that I told my wife I might have to get back to the car. I have a mild asthma condition that can be quickly effected by that freezing winter air.

Janice went on and I turned back but suddenly a young man with a shock of curley hair stopped and excitedly said “Steve”. He reminded me who he was. Lorcen. His sister was in my daughter’s Primary school class and we bonded as Manchester City fans… just before the glory years. 

It was great catching up. He was clocking some great 800 metre times. We were hopeful city had found their mojo again. 

BUT as he ran on I realised that if I went back to the car I might never thaw out again. Even with the heater. I suddenly realised that  My winter pick me up was to pick myself up and get moving. I set out to meet my wife and Jed.

It reminded me of the film Frozen 2. Anna is in very dark spot. Olaf is dying in Anna’s arms. It seems that she has now lost Olaf and her sister Elsa. She feels that she has no reason to go on. In a film called Frozen it is a cold moment of the soul. If ever someone needed a winter pick me up. 

Anna hears a song. 

 

”You are lost, hope is gone

But you must go on

And do the next right thing”

 

Go on. Do the next right thing!

In winter moments of the soul don’t go back to the car and freeze. Move. Do right things. It is why Jesus was always encouraging his disciples to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty a home to the homeless and visit the prisoner. 

In my winter moments I discovered on Saturday that it is best to keep moving although maybe not at the same pace as my young friend of Lorcen. BUT… Pick yourself up Steve and make the next right move. It’ll save from me from freezing and maybe save others from the cold too. 


PRAYING WITH A TRAMP WHO WAS ACTUALLY A GREAT IRISH POET

Fiacc

(This was my Pause for Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio Ulster on September 22, 2020. The theme was Lessons Learned)

 

It was 35 years ago and I was on the Stranraer to Larne ferry.  We found seats and were quickly joined at our table by a man who looked like a tramp. He was dishevelled from head to toe, a little dirty and the loudness of his voice hinted that he had been drinking.

He started swearing loudly about British rail and soon everyone sat around us was focused on our table. I eventually leaned in and asked if he would mind stopping the swearing.

“What would you know about swearing?” he asked. “I am a great Irish poet and I know the power of words. What would you know? Where did you go to University?” 

When I proudly said Queens University in Belfast he shouted something derogatory about it being a sausage factory. 

Then… he walked off throwing some books on the table. People started gathering round to see what the books were and indeed the books were his - Padraic Faicc was a great Irish poet.

The Bible talks about entertaining strangers well… because some have entertained angels without knowing it. It is a small lesson in a Bible full of the preciousness of every single human being. Everyone, even the dishevelled tramp whose language is a bit strong. 

After a few minutes Padraic came back to the table and eventually shared with us about his brokenness. Born in Belfast he grew up in the poverty of Hells Kitchen in New York city. He returned to Belfast in 1969, his wife left him and his best friend was a victim of the troubles. It played havoc with his nerves.

As we left the boat I had one of the great privileges of my life as a great Irish poet asked me to pray for him and all those issues of brokenness that you can read about in his poetry. 

That boat trip was maybe as good a seminar as I ever attended. Don’t judge a book by the cover or the poet by his clothes.


THE NEW NORMAL

New Normal

(my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on September 15th 2020... the theme was the New Normal...)

 

40 years ago this week I went off to Sunderland Poly to do a 3 year degree in journalism but lasted only 3 days. 

It just wasn’t for me and within days I was back to NORMAL.. BUT… In the few days outside normal… I had been convinced by a mother and headmaster to go back to school and give journalism a miss and choose a career in the Church. 

I was home with everything around me the same old NORMAL but the experience in between had created a NEW NORMAL that changed my choice of career.

There is a story in the Bible about Joseph. You might know about his technicolour dream coat. He was daddy’s favourite and his brothers were so jealous that they sold him into slavery and told his father he’d been killed by wild beasts. 

Joseph ended up in Egypt and after a few years actually became Prime Minister. Fleeing from famine his brothers ended up in front of him. Would he avenge their treatment of him? No he forgave them and helped them in their hunger. Something that happened in his time in Egypt had prepared Joseph to make the right choices when he went back to what might have been the old normal of family life.

These last months have ripped the old normal away from us. Oh how we’d love to not have to wear masks, be able to hug our friends and go to gigs and football matches. 

Yet, I don’t want to just snap back. I want to carry with me the many things I have learned in these strange days. 

For me I’ve enjoyed time with family… or not having to shop to somehow feel human… or trusting in God more than I do when all seems well around me. 

When all the choices available in the old normal return… I hope that I will have changed… just as I did in those few days in Sunderland in 1980 I hope I have changed enough to make the right choices… that I suppose is the new normal that awaits.

 

(This was a 3 minute mix of Sunday's sermon in Fitzroy... WATCH IT HERE)


JUST WATCH ME - BRIAN KENNEDY'S GIG GOES WRONG... AND THEN WORSE!

BK guitar

(this was my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on September 9, 2020... the theme for the week was LIVE MUSIC.)

 

Some years ago I was introducing the Main Stage acts at Greenbelt, an annual Christian Arts Festival in England. Irish singer songwriter Brian Kennedy was at the festival to guest on a Songs Of Praise so we slotted him in for a short acoustic set.

Everything went wrong. Technical hitches meant we were running late and Brian’s short set was getting shorter. Then the band before him, instead of coming off stage at the right time, broke into a rock thump of a stadium anthem and had the crowd bouncing.

Standing behind the curtain with Brian I remarked, “not easy to follow this with just a guitar” and Brian looked at me and with a gentle humble defiance, and said, “Just watch me!”

A tough gig very quickly got worse. Seconds after I had introduced him and a couple of strums into his first song Brian’s guitar strap gave way and his guitar crashed to the floor.

Instead of total embarrassment in front of thousands of people Brian simply kept on singing. I stood there a few feet away and watched in awe as in that moment of possible professional humiliation Brian Kennedy brought that crowd to hushed silence and grabbed their fully focused attention with just the beauty of his voice. 

It was unbelievable and I couldn’t help but hear his words echoing in my ear, “Just watch me!”

For me it was almost Biblical. I thought of Moses standing in front of the might of an Egyptian Pharaoh seeking to get the Israelites free from slavery. Tough ask. Just watch me. 

Or the wee boy David going out to fight the giant Goliath with only a sling a few stones. Everybody is thinking Tough fight and David saying “Just watch me”. 

When I find myself in tough situations where all circumstances seem to be against me, I’ll often drift back to that Greenbelt main stage with Brian Kennedy… I then dig deep in my faith, ask God for the resilience and say… sometimes even just to myself… “Just watch me” 


MY BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHTMARE... REDEEEMED

Back To School 3

(this was my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on September 2, 2020... the theme was Back To School)

 

Back to school was my nightmare. Not in my school days BUT in the years after I left school. From leaving in 1981 right through to 2005 I had a recurring nightmare of being back at school.

There I was sitting at a desk. Or worse an exam hall. I was my age in the dream but everyone around me was school age. I was back… and I hadn’t been to any classes or read any books. I knew nothing. It was horrible.

Twenty five years of being back at school – at least in my dreams

Then it stopped. Since 2005, I have never had that nightmare again.

What happened I started wondering.

Well, in 2005 I took a sabbatical for 4 months at Regent College in Vancouver. I have no post graduate degrees but in their kindness they offered me a Writer In Residence post and I had an office beside world renowned theologians like the late JI Packer. 

I was free to go lectures… so I took a two week class on Mission. It started at 8am for three hours. I never liked classes when I was at school but by the last day I didn’t want it to end!

I came home and studied for a Masters degree. Again I didn’t have a 2:1 degree but somehow Queens University in Belfast allowed me to do it.

When I wondered why I wasn’t going back to school in my dreams, I realised that I had come to terms with the guilt in the depths of my soul that was causing the nightmares. I simply hadn’t tried at school or University. Now I had. Sorted!

It is almost a parable of what Jesus was on about. Confessing our guilt… he taught his followers… was more than just saying sorry but actually turning around and living differently. 

Both Regent College and Queens University showed me grace, defined as unmerited favour. By doing so they allowed me to redeem my wasted years in education and put my life right.

Jesus invites me to do that with all other areas of my life… all the time… it is better than going back to school. And doesn’t give me nightmares! 


FAMILY... AS A PLACE OF EDUCATION AND SPIRITUAL RETREAT

The girls 09

(this was my Pause For Thought on Vanessa Feltz, BBC Radio 2, on May 15th, 2020... The theme was "Family"... )

 

Family life eh. That is a little more intensive for some of us in lock down. I have come to realise that family is a place of education and spiritual retreat.

Just before our daughter Jasmine was born, I rubbed her mummy’s tummy and said “Come on little angel. Arrive and show us all those things you need to teach us.”

Family is a great school. I am more shaped by what happened in my home than what happened in schools or universities.

The teaching is more subjective. You don’t learn so much about pythagorus or chemical tables or rift valleys or Tudor Kings as you do about yourself.

I remember my older daughter Caitlin lying between us one Saturday morning when she was very tiny. We were trying to get an extra hour’s sleep and she was probably keen to wake us up. As I tried to encourage her to shut her eyes she just looked into mine and said, “I see myself. I see myself!” 

That woke me up! How profound! I then realised that I had my glasses on and she was seeing her reflection in my glasses.

Still, what we learn in those closest and most intense personal engagements shape us profoundly. In those closest to us we see ourselves.

Now I know there are probably strengths in what Caitlin saw in that reflection but I am always fearing the weaknesses. My history teacher taught me that every person who achieved anything worthwhile was aware of their weaknesses.

One of my favourite Psalms in the Bible says “Search me, God, and know my heart… See if there is any offensive way in me”. 

I am ever keen to know those weaknesses. I am keen to stop offending my neighbour. I want less bad habits to hand on to the next generation.

When I pray that Psalm I often feel that God answers. Ok Steve I will search you… I will point out your offensive ways. Now back to your family and we’ll get started… and by the way, I hear God add, in 2020 we are going to have a more intensive learning programme!