PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

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.


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.