PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

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.


DEALING WITH LONELINESS

220px-EleanorRigbyStatue

(This is the script for my Pause For Thought this morning on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2... the theme was Dealing With Loneliness)

 

So Vanessa I started thinking about this week’s theme Dealing with Loneliness last week while I was in Covid isolation. 

For the millions of you who have been there, isolation is not easy. I had thankfully a mild dose of covid. The isolation might have been harder to deal with. First I was in bedroom and hearing others downstairs, chatting to them out a window, then they left me totally on my own. 

BUT as an only child I am used to being on my own, indeed other than missing Janice I kind of enjoy being on my own. 

So, it was great to see The Beatles Get Back documentary - all 8 hours of it. So what a perfect time to give a shout out to Paul McCartney who is 80 on Saturday. Paul has a few songs in the catalogue about lonely people. Eleanor Rigby might be the best known… “all the lonely people” - I’ll spare the singing.

The Bible too. The Old Testament and New Testament scriptures both start with God dealing with loneliness. Right at the beginning God sees Adam and says it’s not good to be alone and makes him a partner Eve. 

In the New Testament Jesus tells the disciples that when he leaves them he won’t leave them alone as orphans but that the Holy Spirit will be their companion, comfort and guide. God’s no fan of loneliness.

So in my isolation I had many thoughts on dealing with loneliness. In the end I was grateful that I never really feel lonely but started to feel a deep compassion for those who do. 

I started considering The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby again… Fr Mackenzie writing the sermon that no one will hear. Ouch! 

Then I was thinking of the lonely in the Gospels, that tax collector Zaccheus up a tree to see Jesus and Jesus invites himself to dinner..

The theme shifted from me dealing with my own loneliness to my helping other people deal with theirs.  

Today as I walk through a world full of Eleanor Rigbys… a hello in the street, a thank you in a shop, a text message, a phone call or a wee visit to a neighbour… it can make a huge difference in people’s lives. 

A chance to thank all those who sent me messages to my Covid Cave last week… they all helped. 


RESISTING THE TEMPTATION TO GIVE UP HOPE (LENT & WAR)

Hope for Ukraine

(This was my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on March 2nd 2022... The them was Resisting Temptation... but was soon in the context of war in Ukraine...)

 

Today like many Christians all over the world, including my Pause for Thought colleague George Pitcher from yesterday, I will go to an Ash Wednesday service and have my head ashed. I will have a cross will be smeared on my forehead - to the words  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I will do so as part of only the second ever, we think, Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service to be held in Belfast. As a Protestant I never got ashed. Across the world today many Protestant Churches will have ashing services but not in N. Ireland. On Ash Wednesday in N. Ireland you could literally tell what side you were on by whether you had ash on your forehead or not. 

The first Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service, 2 years ago, led to by far the most meaningful Lent that I have ever had. Without doubt its public commitment gave me spiritual resilience as I struggled to resist temptation.

So begins the 40 days of Lent, a time when Christians heighten our self denial, increase our prayer lives and prepare for the events of Jesus death and resurrection.

This year we begin that journey in the shadow of war in Ukraine. 

A war that can be beamed into your front room. For the Christian there is the dilemma that you pray for peace while actually watching bombs exploding. Watching war on a 24/7 news loop can leave you feeling hopeless.

It was in Nakasongola in Uganda that I saw the phrase HOPELESS IS A BIG ILLNESS. How right is that?

So this Lent it might be all about not resisting the temptation to give up hope for Ukraine and indeed the world.

That’s where I will come back to our 2nd Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service. Twenty years ago, that could never have happened here in Belfast, for sectarian and religious reasons. That it will take place tonight without a protest outside is a sign that things can change. Peace moves slow BUT it is moving. 

As Christian writer Jim Wallis defined it, hope is “believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” As I am ashed tonight I will publicly commit to resist any temptation to lose that kind of hope for Ukraine and us all.


CAN I WORK THE GOSPEL INTO MY HAIR CUT ON NATIONAL RADIO

Stockman bearded

(My Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Vanessa on February 23rd (Happy Birthday Caitlin!) 2022. The theme was 'Back to Basics'!)

 

I grew up in the 60s and George Best was the best footballer in the world and he was from our wee place - Belfast. Even as a Man city fan, I was captivated by his skill but also by his long hair. 

So, I have had long hair ever since. I’ve only ever had 4 big cuts. Once for my dearest but fussy cousin’s wedding, once because I took a rush of blood to the head in the late 80s, once in order to raise £3500 to build a house on the townships of South Africa AND two weeks ago!

Even two weeks ago’s cut has a story! Last November I was getting a trim and the hairdresser botched it. So badly. For a couple months I put up with it BUT I eventually realised that something needed done. It was all straggly, fragile and out of control. I also realised that nothing could be done to fix it. 

It needed to go back to basics. So two Saturdays ago in our kitchen my mate Tim got his razor out! My wife Janice started hacking it off to get it down to a shave-able length. I had resigned myself to a number 6! BUT… suddenly it looked good. Janice had done a great job. The razor wasn’t needed. So, it ended up not exactly shaved BUT shorter, neater and healthier.

Our lives can get straggly, fragile and out of control. Sometimes we need to rein it in. Take it back to basics. 

In a famous story in the Christian gospels when Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again he was saying, you need it fixed fella. You need to go back to basics and start all over. 

I know it. There are times when my life is in such a mess that a wee tweak here or there is not enough. I need to confess to Jesus that all is lost and let him take me right back to basics and give me a brand new beginning. 


THE INEQUALITIES OF VALENTINES DAY - WHAT IF...

Red roses

these are the roses mentioned below...

 

(This is my Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Katie Piper standing in for Vanessa... The theme was Valentines Day)

Last Friday evening the door bell rang. I went to the door where I took hold of 12 red roses from the delivery man. I brought them into the kitchen and reached them to my wife. Oh the smile on her face before I then reached them further round to my daughter. They were from her boy friend. Janice laughed… a little.

Valentine’s Day. So many can be so excited and thrilled, like indeed my daughter was. Some can be disappointed, like Janice… though I did give her a lovely gift on Monday morning.

My friend used to be a post man and told me how aware he was of the inequalities of life and romantic love as he did his rounds on February 14th. 

It reminds me of that classic Janis Ian song At Seventeen. How did she put it?

 

The valentines I never knew

The Friday night charades of youth

Were spent on one more beautiful

At seventeen I learned the truth

 

Janis Ian tells us how looks and shapes and fashion and hair styles and cool postures divide us into the loveable and those to be left on a shelf. 

I like to think of another world on Valentine’s Day. One where the first are last and the last are first. Where everyone is equal and get the same amount of love, sense of worth and deep knowledge of belonging.

Jesus talked a lot about such a world. We have since defined it as GRACE, a counter cultural idea that God who created and sustains the universe loves us simply as we are. He can’t love us anymore than he does. He can’t love us any less. All of us. Multiple card receivers or those who have never gotten one. All loved.

For me it is more than an idea. I believe it… not just in my head and in my heart but also in my eyes. As a 60 year old man, a lot overweight and who got his beloved long hair cut short last week I look in the mirror and I feel loved, secure and significant. Grace. I am lavishly loved the way I look in that reflection. It’s a whole lot better than waiting for the postman!


WHEN THINGS GO VERY WRONG...

Fr Alec 2

(This was my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on February 9, 2022... The them was When Things Go Wrong)

 

Frozen 2. Do you remember. 

In the film, 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. 

And she sang

 

"You are lost, hope is gone

But you must go on

And do the next right thing”

 

When things go wrong… sing Frozen - Do the next right thing.

We in Northern Ireland have watched things go wrong for centuries. In 1988 there were two particular weeks when it was going very very wrong. People were being killed – even at some of the funeral. 

Among the mourners was Fr Alec Reid a Redemptorist Priest who wanted to do the next right thing. As a follower of Jesus he believed that the wrong in his neighbourhood should not be happening. He knew Jesus call was to serve others. He decided to make a right move.

At one of the funerals he found himself giving dying British soldiers the kiss of life. A photograph of the scene was all over our news papers. 

BUT unknown to everyone, within hours of this particular tragedy Fr Alec was driving to Derry to meet the politician John Hume. At the funeral Fr Alec had picked up an envelope which had in it the conditions that might bring the IRA into peace negotiations. He handed them to John Hume and the peace process started to roll. Slowly… but roll.

When things were most wrong, one man took Jesus’ command to love their neighbour and even enemy so seriously that he did the next right thing. 

From there talks tentatively began that a long six years later turned into a cease-fire and later the Good Friday Peace Agreement that won John Hume the Nobel Peace Prize alongside David Trimble.  

So I carry this great nugget of advice around with me. A Jesus idea, coined in a Disney film, as lived out by a courageous priest…  

When it is very wrong… do the next right thing… serve others…who knows where it ends up.


BE YOURSELF STEVE

Ken Newell

(My Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on November 23, 2021. The theme for the week was "the most important man in your life" for MO-vember!)

 

My most important man gave me advice in his kitchen when I was 35 that meant that that same kitchen was my kitchen when I was 50.

I had just arrived at Queens University in Belfast as part of the Chaplaincy team and thought I would grab a coffee with ministers of local churches. Ken Newell invited me up to his house for a coffee. Ken was minister of Fitzroy and a big inspiration on my life through his work to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

It is strange because I can remember vividly that short mile and a half journey and sitting in Ken’s kitchen. We didn’t have much time and while making a coffee Ken said, 

“Steve when you get to 50 make sure you know who you are. Most of my peers have been looking over their shoulders at what every else expects of them and most are having an identity crisis because they haven’t a clue who they are.” 

A quick coffee and I was gone… but with that most important advice ringing in my soul.

For the next 15 years I tried to live out Ken’s words. My very favourite verse from the Bible is John 10:10 and not just because my birthday is 10:10. Jesus speaks in that verse about coming to give us “life in all its fulness.” 

For me Ken’s advice helped me realise that life in its fulness would depend on my being me. Not trying to be like others. Me. As God made me. My unique self.

When Ken left as minister of Fitzroy 12 years ago, the church kindly called me to be his successor. If I hadn’t stayed true to Ken’s advice, I don’t think they would have. Ken was different and though I was different than Ken, Fitzroy wanted different and not anyone the same as everybody else.  

So I woke up on my 5oth birthday and had a cup of coffee in Ken’s old kitchen, now ours. This morning’s Pause For Thought comes from the exact place where the thought took place. 

Ken is Still one of the most important men in my life and he gave me the best advice I ever got. Be yourself to the full Steve. Be yourself.


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.