Statue Of Liberty

I was captured by James K.A. Smith's idea that we are not so much what we believe as what we love. The heart not the mind is a key for all spiritual and social behaviour. Christians have put a great emphasis on the mind (not wrongly) but if the heart is the real driver and is captured by different things then the mind may be well thought through to no avail! 

When we all vote, and it is America's turn today then I fear that our beliefs give way to what our own selfish desires, comforts and securities. I pray that belief and love would line up today...


Like the lady in the harbour

Vote for her torch of light

For that brave New Colossus

All the huddled masses in flight

For all the tired and weary

In the darkest part of night

For all that Jesus called blessed

I pray that you do what's right.


Don’t vote for what you love

But for what you say you believe

Don’t vote for you yourself alone

But for every soul longing to breathe.


Mandela's Cell

Thirty years ago today Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember it so well. I had been going out with Janice for only about six months and had no idea how much South Africa and Robben Island would become part of our lives. Yet, I remember on that day as I watched those last steps of the long walk to freedom that something good had happened to the world. I felt that feeling of justice. I wanted more of it.

Ten years later and I was taking students to Cape Town every other year to help build houses on the Townships. A small way to right those apartheid wrongs. We even got to meet FW De Klerk who released Mandela that day back in 1990.

It is hard to find words to describe how much I loved Nelson Mandela. I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island so many time and even got to get into his cell. Those visits to Robben Island were powerfully poignant, like walking on redeemed ground.

I wrote this after one trip and then when Iona asked to use it in a song I wrote another verse during another visit. I think it sums up all that is almost unbelievable about the man's humility, courage and grace. Jo Hogg sings it so well. Today as we celebrate Mandela's release, I send it out in celebration.


Thought of you on this island of the leper
Thought of you on this island of the mad
Thought of you on this island of the outcast
Thought of you on this island of the sick and sad

And no one ever asked questions
With marks as sharp as these
They pierced the veins of Jesus
Who was one of the least of these

Thought this island had a tragic holiness
Thought this island had a painful grace
Thought this island had the ugliest history
Thought this island was the most beautiful place

And no one ever gave an answer
With as gentle a word as this
You took the most violent indignation
And you killed it with a political kiss

Thought of you on this island of the limestone and the pain of dust torn eyes
Thought of you on this island of the convict toiling under the bluest skies
Looked upon this island of the reconciled,
And I saw a stone carved cross
Thought of you on this island of redemption,

Closed my eyes and thought about what that freedom had cost

I saw the altar of this world’s cruelty
I saw the stadium of the devils goals
I saw a man duck and weave the most evil punches
I saw a factory of magnificent souls.



Cape Town made me wide eyed. Oh my, the beauty! Then it opened my eyes. To the ugliness of crime. I had just brought a group of students in. They were robbed. They lost all sense of security. We had to move them fast. 

If I had gotten the hold of the wee urchins who stole clothes and electric devices I would have pulverised them myself before taking them to the police. I was angry. I wanted justice. Vengeance probably.

The next evening, we were at a Ronan Keating concert! I know, not my thing but the students needed a night out and my friend was playing bass guitar! 

Keating didn’t grab too much of my attention but then he sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto. Elvis didn’t sing many profound potent political songs. In the Ghetto might have been the only one.

That song changed my whole perception of the crime against us. Originally called The Vicious Circle, In the Ghetto does a few things. It rehumanises the criminal. It asks questions about a society that causes the crime. It points the finger at all of us for being blind to this.

A few years later I was talking to my friend Sandi. Sandi was from the Cape Flats and he told me that as a teenager he made a choice to get himself onto an Operation Mobilisation ship because if he had stayed on the townships without education, jobs and hope,  he would have ended up on drugs and in crime, probably in prison.

We can have a lazy response to crime. They deserve all that they get. They get it too easy. Put them in and throw away the key.

I believe this to be wrong in several ways. The dehumanisation of the criminal. Our blindness to the part of our complicity in not doing anything about the social injustice that allows crime to flourish. We also need to remember that almost all our prisoners will one day be back on the streets and those on probation are already in our communities, so a mindset of restoration, rehabilitation and redemption is for the good of everyone.

Of course, for the follower of Jesus this should be obvious. If I was a sportsman in the dressing room before a game, I would listen to all of what the coach says. What they might say first and then the last thing they say before leaving us to go and play might be the most vital advice to remember.

Jesus started and ended his ministry talking about prisoners. Then on the Cross Jesus promised a man sentenced in the courts to be with him in Heaven. Restoration, rehabilitation and redemption are at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel. 

We as Jesus’ followers need to be about that too. Jesus had no desire to leave anyone wallowing in a prison cell. He came to offer everyone “life and life in all its fulness.” (John 10:10).  It therefore seems to me that the Church should be working in close relationship, as individuals and congregations, with the  Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and others to transform the lives of all of those sentenced in our courts so  that they might eventually become contributors to a City of Grace that they should be benefiting from.  

No one is beyond the influence and redemption of Jesus. As I wrote in a poem awhile back... 

I came across Jesus

Hanging on a cross

Carved in sand on a Spanish beach

His sparkling eyes 

Cut through the night

Like no one was out of his reach.


Incredibly and very tragically, as I used this story of Sandi in my speech in Hydebank College and Women's Prison I had no idea that he had been taken seriously ill back in South Africa. By the time I used the story again in my Sunday sermon Sandi had died. He was too young. This goes out in his tribute and with prayers for his wife Zimbini and family. You made your contribution brother. Thank you!



Prisons? How do we see prisons? You might find that, like me, you haven’t thought an awful lot about it. However, if you stop and surmise for a moment like me you might realise how much your view of prisons has been honed by what you have seen through The Troubles and the documentaries since. Prisons are about keeping people inside. For decades they were very dangerous people; heighten the security.

Perhaps, as well as making sure they do not get out, we are all about the punishment. I mean these are criminals. Justice is demanded. Give them bread and water and all this talk about televisions and pool tables… perhaps we do not think that prisons should look like that.

As a follower of Jesus prisons are an irritant. I cannot dismiss them as places to keep people in or be all about punishment. Jesus had a special place for the prisoner. 

That first time that he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and open the scroll of Isaiah, right there in the text were the words - “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”

At the end of his life, when he is talking to his disciples about how you can tell who is getting in to the Kingdom and who is not, Jesus tells them that they can do good to him when they do good to the marginalised - “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 

It is important that we see that at the heart of Jesus ministry, and at the centre of what the Bible reveals to us about the character of God, is redemption. It is not judgement but the transforming power of grace that Jesus came to do and teach us. 

That should change how we see prisons and indeed prisoners. The rehabilitation and indeed redemption of prisoners should be high on our agenda. The reduction of re-offending should be a priority when we pray for a peaceful and prosperous city, as Jeremiah asked us to.

Surely, we should be calling for the building of prisons of grace and praying for the Spirit’s transformative power and that by God’s unmerited love criminals become repentant reborn humans, eventually leaving prison to make positive contributions to society that forgives and sets them free, without stigma. 

On this year’s Prisons Week I am asking how I see prisons and what I am doing about the prisoners that Jesus identified himself with? 



Devine Aswa from Arua, Uganda was a gifted child. He had a clever mind. His English was more fluent than Ugandan children of three times his age. He knew his mind too. Even as a two year old he wanted to be called after the family name rather than his given name. He was a vibrant wee man. Entertaining. Charismatic. Very funny. This past summer particularly he was like our Fitzroy team mascot. With us every day in the school. Loved by all of us.

We heard this week that little Devine had passed away. He was only five years of age. He had been born with heart defect. Not that you would have known from his energy. Even heart surgery in India didn’t end up saving him. 

We in Fitzroy are heartbroken. We dedicated this morning’s service, which was a feedback about our trip this past summer, to him. There were tears. Lots of them.

This is what our partnership in Onialeku is all about. Tears and heartache. 

I had watched for thirty years as churches raised amazing amounts of money for mission and development. It was then sent to a big organisation who took it and did amazing things with it. BUT… there was a lack.

There was a lack of relationship. A lack of mutual sharing. Of mutually sharing our poverty and wealth. Without relationship our giving is easy, one dimensional, impotent and not the God modelled way. 

Relationship is the entire point of God’s design. Eden sees the masterplan. Relationship. The Fall broke up all the original relationships. The New Jerusalem sees the vision of all things restored. With God everything is about things is relationship. 

In between Eden and that new Jerusalem, God came among us in relationship. Emmanuel - God with us. Jesus incarnation, cross, resurrection and ascension were about veils being torn, walls broken down - restored relationship.

In mission we need to be in relationship. We don’t work for so much as being with. We can work for people, without ever knowing anything about those we work for. God’s model is BEING WITH.

This is why I encouraged Fitzroy to get into relationship. I wanted us to send our money to a community that we would be in partnership with. We cannot therefore hide from the poverty that they have to live through. We have to respond to it in our own lives. Also in such partnerships they can pray for us and teach us about our own poverty. Mutual sharing.

This week we mutually share with our Onialeku community the grief of losing our little brother, son, nephew. He is buried with his Grandfather Bishop Isaac Aswa whose death broke our hearts back in 2016. Aswa family be assured of our prayers, our tears, our love, our mutual grief. 

Our consolation is that for 10 days this past July we gave little Devine the time of his life… as he did us… we got to share 10:10 (life in all its fulness) with him!


Tiananmen Sq

There are moments when you make good choices over the song to play. Way back in August 1990 I pressed the play button on the old walkman (remember them) and Bruce Cockburn’s Waiting For A Miracle started throwing images around my head that mingled perfectly and disturbingly with the bombardment of images around me.

Like the ones who've cried
Like the ones who've died
Trying to set the angel in us free
While they're waiting for a miracle.

With my ears and my eyes in harmony to the disharmony, my soul attempted to make sense of my context. I was on Tiananmen Square. It was 16 months since June 4 1989 and the place was haunted by what happened there on that day. I wrote in my journal: -

“Tiananmen Square? All my thoughts on China, before and after I came here, ricocheted around the vast emptiness of this square. I will never forget this hour of my life and I’ll never be able to write down all that I thought in that too short a time.

It seemed so calm, so still, so peaceful and yet I am asking what happened here and what are the few people scattered around me thinking. I can see all these signs of history, the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mao Mausoleum among them. But what about signs for the future? I watched people sitting, almost reverentially where the students sat the previous year and wondered what they were thinking. Did a loved one come here with a vision of a future and die for that future? The Chinese can so easily in their friendly and gentle disposition hide from us the truth of their hopes and fears.”

I have said it before and will say it again that Cockburn’s travelogue songs are so full of his lyrical genius that you just wish he was with you everywhere you go. Add places of political injustice and even more so. Waiting For A Miracle was written about Nicaragua but it fitted here. Never have I had such a detailed soundtrack to what I was seeing around me. Cockburn’s words could have been written as I attempted to write down my own thoughts: -

“Somewhere out there is a place that's cool
Where peace and balance are the rule
Working toward a future like some kind of mystic jewel
And waiting for a miracle.”

“Peace and balance” is a very Chinese concept. Working for a future and as the next verse suggests, “How come history takes such a long, long time/When you're waiting for a miracle.” A miracle? As I sat on my own, wondering and pondering and writing, Cockburn’s song was as Tolstoy suggested art should be, “Intercourse between human and human.” Cockburn and I were in conversation but more it became a resource for me to be in spiritual intercourse with God also.

And my prayer was that these people, particularly the children who all smiled for a photograph and then moved their heads right on my click, that an interruption of God’s grace would bring a peaceful and balanced future and see the speed of history quicken. Thirty years on... and I remember that hour as vividly as when I was there and Cockburn still converses with me. Still I pray!


Hygiene Day Ednar

Today, across the world, is Menstrual Hygiene Day. It will no doubt pass many of us by but it shouldn't. For my friends working in schools with Fields of Life in East Africa this is a major day. 

Something that we in the west find hard to talk about openly is a world justice issue for millions. This summer, like the last two summers, Fitzroy’s Team to Onialeku Primary School will teach a programme called I am Girl which will educate the girls and indeed boys in the school about this very natural process, helping them with their hygiene thus enabling them to not miss school once a month, further aiding their education to take their place in the building of their nation.

Indeed, we believe so much that the girls' education should not be hampered by the natural process of menstruation that we funded a separate washroom for girls so that they could come to school confident that their hygiene could be taken care of.

As the Menstrual Hygiene Day website points out, “More than half of girls lose confidence during puberty with the onset of menstruation marking the lowest point in confidence. One of the key reasons is a lack of information. Education about menstruation changes fear to confidence.”

Poverty is balanced against women. Days like today’s Menstrual Hygiene Day are a contribution to a fairer and more just world. So my Fields Of Life colleagues in Kampala, we stand with you. We will come in a few weeks and work alongside you.

Forgive me for sounding as if this is just an African or Asian issue. It is an issue very much alive closer to home. There is stigma and what is called 'period poverty' right here in the UK and Ireland.

Indeed, three female footballers started the On The Ball Campaign. It is estimated that one in ten girls and young women in the UK are unable to access sanitary products. 

My team Manchester City, often vilified in the media, were one of the first clubs to respond. On The Ball said: "We are thrilled to have Manchester City backing the On The Ball campaign by providing free period products. The Premier League is known worldwide so to have teams like Man City on board with the campaign is excellent and shows that football can be forward-thinking and an effective platform for change."

So, on Menstrual Hygiene Day, let's raise the awareness. Let's help however we can. Onialeku Primary School in Arua, Uganda, we will be showering you with sanitary pads very soon!



On the day that the President is reported to be saying stupid things about Global warming I was immediately drawn back to this song from Sam Phillips wonderful new record World On Sticks.

American Landfill Kings couldn't be a better antidote to Trump's dangerous rhetoric. It not only keeps the warning in front of us all:

Where will we live?
When they've conquered the earth
And the wild dies
Where will we live?

Phillips goes further. She hits the apocalyptic nail right on its explosive head. 

How did we find ourselves
Living on top of the things
That we don't want any more


We die with a palace of junk
That can't find its rest in the ground

Phillips Landfill

This whole scam is about wealth. It is all about the accumulation of money and stuff. We are possessed by our possessions. We worship at the altar of profit. The god of the age is money. It is the devil in respectable disguise. 

Of course Jesus was all over this lie that has cataclysmic consequences 2000 years ago. Some of the Bible is not only as up to date as it was when it was written. Some of it is more up to date now. Jesus' followers were not rich. Their temptation to worship such a good was limited. Living now, in America, in the richest generation in history and Jesus' words about money are sharper than any proverbial two edged sword. 

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Trump is about money and wealth. He throws the accusation that those who believe in global warming are being political, as if he is not being political in his blind convenience. He is prepared to get America richer as he throws away the soul of America and leaves his children and their children with an environmental catastrophe to live through. It is about momentary me, me, me at the cost of the next generations and eternity. 

So, convenient blindness. Like the evangelicals throughout most of the twentieth century who dismissed Walter Rauschenbusch's social gospel because it was too cross carrying to listen to its Biblical prophetic rage. Or the conservative Protestants of Northern Ireland who dismiss "love your enemy" or "blessed by the peacemaker" because of it would to cross carrying to reconcile with their Catholic neighbour. Trump has blind convenience.

In Trump's blind convenience, America sbow to the god of money. America needs to dismiss global warming so as it can get out of any Environmental deals that would hold up rampant and unfettered capitalism. They can then up the profits, increase the wealth, live in more comfort. Like a snake in the grass they are deceived for what looks and tastes good and damned to their fate and by extension our fate too and the vulnerable poor across our world who will be first hit by the impact of climate change.

Amos warns the American Landfill Kings poetically and fearfully about what happens when they leave others vulnerable to acquire their own wealth:

"Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins."

Maybe Sam Phillips gives us a way out. It is a good paraphrase of Jesus words about seeking God's kingdom before the stuff and actually about giving up the stuff if we want to inherit the kingdom of God.


Giving, letting go
Unpossessing to unbind us

Open hands, open hearts
Every moment to remind us

Let it be!



On Friday night Janice got the shakes. She’s a city girl and jokes that she gets the shakes when she passes Lisburn on the M1. We ended up in the heart of Armagh, at the Markethill Mart, kindly invited as guests of Laurence and June Andrews to the 6th Annual Big BBQ. As well as an amazing meal you could bid at the auction for a cow or a few lambs or a Massey Ferguson Fleece! We were far from home.

Angus Wilson and local businessmen put on this auction and meal every couple years to raise money to Water Wells in East Africa, through Water For Life, past of Fields of Life. On Friday night Gerry Kelly asked him about what they do at the BBQs and Angus’s answered wit a story that preached wonderfully what I have been trying to convince people of for many years.

Angus is on the Fields Of Life Board and for some years has been taking annual trips of five or six businessmen to Uganda to see the work of Fields Of Life. Many of those businessmen were in the room on Friday night. They probably bid for the cow!

On Angus’s very first trip, on the way to the airport, one of the businessmen asked Angus would it not be far more helpful to send the cost of their trips to help the people of Uganda. Why should they waste this money on this kind of trip? Angus, like a sage, said he would answer that question on the way home! It was a great question. £10,000 to go and be a sight seer when it could have built two water wells. How would Angus answer?

I have no idea whether Angus gave the businessmen an answer on the way home or not. They probably didn’t need one. On Friday night it was declared that the businessmen who have gone on Angus’s trips have already raised £480,000 and would break the half million pound mark on the evening. Any businessman would agree that that is some return on a £10,000 investment!

I have argued the question Angus was asked many times. I am always trying to convince the sceptics of the value of visiting, seeing for yourself. It changes your life and that changes your giving. Your giving in time, energy and money. Visiting is never a waste of money. 

When we were taking teams to South Africa I remember one of my students asking a local minister Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile if there was anything we could leave with him before we headed home. Maybe some money? Maybe a gift? What would be helpful? 

“Don’t leave us any money,” he answered. “Leave us your heart.” 

That is the key to Angus’s success. That is the answer to the businessman’s question. When you visit developing countries across the world, with an open mind, then it is likely that you will have your heart captured. What you will give a place and people that you have experienced and shaken hands with will be immeasurably more than the cost of a trip to research and engage. The money you pay is not for a plane ticket, accommodation or food. It is the price of giving away your heart. That can change everything inside yourself and across the world.

I was in awe of Angus’s work. He would probably say that he doesn’t do very much. He enjoys the trips. What he is doing though is not easily calculated. Not even the £500,00 plus he has raised can estimate what he has been doing for the people of East Africa. If he asks you to go, don’t think for a moment that it is money that could be better used. The answer will be obvious when you get home.



Short Term Mission is an exciting thing. You get to visit the most interesting of place. Short Termers are stretched. They have to come to terms with a new environment. They find out what their gifts are. There is an intensity about being with a team for a short time in very close quarters. Camaraderie is strong. Friendships are nurtured. Then there are those you are working with. If, like us, you work in a Primary School then relationships with pupils are strong and emotional. There are tears on the last day.

Short Term Mission is over too fast (there’s a clue in the title). The adrenalin is still running. The excitement is high. That emotion is palpable and, before you would like to, you are going back through customs to the flight home. It’s a flight that seems longer and less comfortable and more boring than the outgoing journey because there is nothing to look forward to at the end. 

When they arrive home the most natural human thing happens. Their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and members of their Church ask them how their trip was? Short Termers are full of it. Full of all the new experiences. Full of all that it meant to them. They want to talk about it, rave about it, wax lyrical. They want to share the experience of a lifetime, wide eyed and from the depth of their soul. BUT…

One of the things that Janice and I were trying to tell our Fitzroy Short Term Team before we left them at Entebbe airport was not to be disappointed when people just want a quick “I had a great time” when they asked about their trip. “How was your trip” can be very like a throw away “how are you?” When we use “how are you?” in a greeting we really are not inviting someone to open up about their physical, emotional or psychological concerns. We are just saying hello before we move on to the weather or the football or the latest gossip.

I understand. It was our Short Term Mission. You don’t need the details. We might get out the photos and now with smart phones there are a lot of photos! There are actually thousands! The football season has started and so much happened when we were away. Apparently the weather was amazing!

This is where I want to encourage the parent, brother, sister, friend or member of a Short Termer’s church. I am not asking for polite listening. I am asking for almost a wee ministry in itself. Some Short Termers are looking for, needing indeed, someone to listen with a little bit of depth.

They do not want to boast about their time. They do not want to bore you with it either. They long to share it in order to help themselves make sense of it. The Short Term Team experience usually has ten to fourteen days of full on stimuli for the soul. Something happens then the next thing leaves that first thing behind.

As summer ends there are a lot of ripe Short Termers all around us. It would be a wonderful thing to invite someone you know who has been a way this summer for a coffee, ask them about their trip and invite them to unpack it with you. I imagine you might learn all kinds of wonderful things about mission and places and about your friend too. You will make their day and perhaps be a real contribution to them fully understanding what just happened to them.