PAUSE FOR THOUGHT - BBC RADIO 2

THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY - GOOD SAMARITAN ACTS

Lioness Heros

This is the script of my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on September 1st, 2023... the theme was "Things That Make Me Happy"

 

“Things That Make Me Happy”. That’s a question I thought. Obviously walking Ballycastle beach with my wife Janice and our dog Jed as we have been doing for the last three weeks…” Holiday happy. 

But what else? You see I am suspicious of happy. It is at the mercy of happenings. Pretty fragile. I prefer a deep contentedness not matter what.

BUT… I started thinking. Sport makes me happy. The World Athletic Championships had me crying me lugs out in pure happiness as Katarina Johnston-Thompson, Josh Kerr and Ben Pattison fulfilled dreams..

AND then… I remembered watching those English Lionesses, Chloe Kelly and Alex Greenwood, get between the intrusive TV cameras and a very upset Chiamaka Nnadozie the Nigerian goalkeeper that they had just defeated in a penalty shoot out. Standing up for the opposition when they could have been celebrating. I had a happy buzz.

Then my daughter Caitlin told us about being on the bus where the bus driver stopped the bus to go and help a homeless person. Wow. Another happiness buzz. I wouldn’t mind my bus being late for that.

And speaking of daughters and buses. A few Friday night’s ago, my other daughter Jasmine was in London on a bus with her friend Hannah. They noticed a girl who seemed very upset and moved over to stand by her and help her. They got her off the bus and waited until her boyfriend picked her up. After I knew that Jasmine and Hannah were safe… and after a little pride… I felt so happy.

What made Jasmine unhappy was that no one else came to the girl’s aid.

So as I heard about these incidents during the time I waited to do this Pause For Thought I learned something about myself. People who do something to help those who need someone to stand by them, particularly when they have no obligation to. That makes me happy in my soul.

It reminded me of that story Jesus told about a man who had been mugged and left at the side of the road. After the religious passers by had ignored the man, someone of another race and religion stopped and helped. The Good Samaritan he is known as.

And it is the actions of Good Samaritans I have learned that make me happy. And I would suggest even more than happy, but deep contented too. 


FRIENDS GIVE HOPE

SHAWSHANK

(This is my script for Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on The Early Breakfast Show with Owain Wyn Evans. The theme was That's What Friends Are For...)

 

This week’s theme had me immediately smiling to myself that I could obsess about my favourite film The Shawshank Redemption. Highly recommend it, if you haven’t seen it. 

In the movie, A rather out of place Andy (played by Tim Robbins) arrives into Shawshank prison and quickly experiences its brutality. He is befriended by Red. I have such a soft spot for Red. Maybe it’s because in Stephen King’s original novel Red was Irish. Maybe Liam Neeson wasn’t available and so instead of my north Antrim accent we get an African American played so well by my other favourite actor, Morgan Freeman.

Red is a friend to all, always bringing empathy and lots of wisdom. When the prisoners are getting over their friend Brooks’s suicide, having just been released after decades in jail. Red sits them all down in the exercise yard and in almost a clergyman’s tone says, “'At first you hate these walls, then you accept them and eventually you become dependent on them”. Oh my. A Pause for Thought in itself!

As the movie continues there is a shift. Andy becomes the friend. They are working hard on the prison roof and he tells a guard he can fix his taxes. That gets all his mates a cold beer, while Andy sits, without the beer, smiling.

Another time he sends the sound of opera all across the prison to ease the prisoners dull lives with little blasts of musical beauty. These are glimpses of grace in an oppressive brutal world. Andy is the friend who gives and sometimes, as with the opera, at his own cost.

After the opera incident Andy gets a harsh dose of solitary confinement. After he comes out Red tries to dampen any enthusiasm the prisoners have of hope. A dangerous thing he calls it. Andy disagrees and says “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”.

Then the emotional ending. Finally given parole, Red follows his friend Andy’s instructions to a wall under the tree and a box with the money for a ticket to Mexico. 

Tears run down my cheeks as I watch the last scene. The panoramic view of the ocean. Sharpest blue sky and ocean contrasting with 3 hours of the grey dark world of Shawshank. Red is on the sand walking towards Andy working on a boat. Free. Redeemed. It’s a little glimpse of heaven. 

Giving us hope. That’s what friends are for.


WHEN HAVE YOU SUMMITED THE MOUNTAIN?

Hart Everest

(This is the script of my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Nikki Chapman on December 15th 2022. The theme was Conquering Mountains.

In italics is a paragraph I ditched. It was not because I wanted to edit the Bible out. I always like the Bible in my Thoughts. It was because that we rightly decided that the general UK public would not be knowledgeable enough of The Gospels to grasp the theological thought within. If you are then you might see where I was coming from...)

 

I remember the phone call. It was around 8 am and Caroline was telling my wife Janice that her husband Nigel had summited Everest. I remember a sense of relief. Then euphoria.

Nigel was on Everest to do medical research. Research done and there was a chance of conquering the highest mountain in the world. I was learning that you didn’t just get out at the highest Base Camp and make a run for it. It would depend on the weather. He would need the right weather at the right time and he got it.

He had made it. I felt the sense of achievement. So few get to experience the top of the world. I went out and ran faster and longer than the day before. Everything seemed possible.

When Nigel came home and talked about reaching the top of Everest he told me that he doesn’t endorse the idea that we conquer mountains. We are blessed to reach their summits and it might be possible in doing so to conquer our fears and worries.

He also says that that when you get to the top of a mountain you are only half way there.  Coming down can be more dangerous. You can be complacent. There are ice movements coming down Everest that can be the most dangerous part. Nigel didn’t think it was over when he got down the mountain BUT he had only made it when he was back home with his family.

It’s good advice for every project. An understanding about when the challenge is actually conquered. When can I relax? When is it done?

People often see Jesus cross as his summit but actually when he fixes his eyes on Jerusalem in Luke 9, it is about the time he would be taken up to heaven. The cross wasn’t the end for Jesus, nor was the resurrection. It was when he ascended back into heaven.

Next year we remember 25 years since the Good Friday peace Agreement in Northern Ireland. It was the end of the Troubles. A mountain conquered it seemed. There was relief. Euphoria. 

But it wasn’t the end. We need to continue to build on the peace that was made. Making peace was not the end. The next bit can be dangerous but we need to keep moving until we have more than a constitutional peace but a peace that everyone is experiencing every single day. 


A ONE HIT WONDER... AND MY HOME TOWN'S LACK OF APPRECIATION FOR ART

Pearly

(this is my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on December 8, 2022... the theme was One Hit Wonders...)

 

Today marks 42 years since the murder of John Lennon. How we miss him but he was definitely not a one hit wonder.

BUT… In the summer of 1967, the week that Sgt Peppers was released, David McWilliams was on the front cover of Melody Maker. London buses carried the advert “America has Dylan, England has Donovan and Ireland has McWilliams”. 

David McWilliams had just released a single called The Days Of Pearly Spencer. A song about a homeless man, it had a documentary feel with the low tech gimmick of David singing down a phone line. It was full of social comment about poverty and the environment. You can see where the Dylan and Donovan comparisons come from.

The song was set up to be a huge hit BUT something went wrong. McWilliams manager Phil Solomon was so wound up with the pirate radio station Radio Caroline that the over exposure given to that station caused the BBC to ban the single. Hence it was number 1 in France, number 2 in Belgium, number 8 in Holland but only 51 in the UK.

Now, here’s the thing. As a music fanatic since I was 10 I was in my 40s before I discovered that David Williams was from my hometown of Ballymena and that Pearly Spencer was about a homeless man in the nearby village of Cullybackey. How could that be?

I think it is because in my town the arts are not considered important. It is a side show at best, a distraction at worst. People should be working in some more useful job. Don’t waste your life singing or painting or acting. Mind you, Liam Neeson is from Ballymena… but he came later.

I never underestimate the arts. Songs can change moods. A painting can change a room. A creative bunch of flowers can shift the atmosphere. 

God created. The Old Testament prophets were poets. Jesus told stories. It seems to me that Jesus told his parables because he knew that the arts open the soul, lift the soul, shift the soul.

Like The Days Of Pearly Spencer opening my heart to the plight of the marginalised and homeless and hopefully leading me to some compassion, before opening my mind to loss of earth beneath the encroaching concrete and steel and disappearing grass. 

Oh I am convinced that even a three minute one hit wonder can change something. 

 

(I want to add that David McWilliams made some great records in the late 60s early 70s and indeed later in his life. He was more than a one single hit wonder but I still thought that this thought fitted. It was great to hear his song on the radio, which it often is, after this Pause For Thought...)


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.