Robben Island Limestone

Just a few miles off the coast from Cape Town Robben Island has a history that is almost exclusively bound up with incarceration. A little like the better known Alcatraz, it has for centuries been seen as the ideal place to send the undesired, knowing that they cannot hope to escape from an island surrounded with ferocious waters. So rebels, lepers and the insane were thrown out of society. The last batch were the anti Apartheid campaigners. 

The bus trip around the island takes you to the Lime Stone Quarry where they brought Nelson Mandela and his friends to do tedious and meaningless work in the South African heat while being painfully blinded by the glare of that sun reflected off the limestone. It was a brutal regime.

Yet, mysteriously, it oozes joy and hope, which is strange, but I guess it’s something to do with a sense that you’re are walking on redeemed ground. Mandela and his comrades freedom against all the odds gives hope for others hoping for freedom. 

On one trip, a former prisoner told us that in that limestone quarry the older prisoners were teaching the younger ones to read and write, multiply and divide, and think political thoughts. “Why?” someone asked. “We were getting ready for freedom before freedom came.” That sentence has fired my imagination ever since.

I do not think it is too contrived for me to make a comparison between those captives on Robben Island and those of us daring to follow Jesus. Jesus asked his followers to pray, in what has become known as The Lord’s Prayer, that God’s Kingdom would come... on earth as in heaven. 

In Lent we are heading towards the season of the Church year where we remember Jesus death and resurrection. These events are huge interrupting events in the breaking in of the Kingdom. God's plan of redemption is going into turbo charge. As Christians prepare for those seismic moments we often give things up. It has become an annual season of giving up chocolate or crisps, coffee or even Facebook.

Perhaps a better way is take a front foot. Maybe we should be getting ready for the Kingdom before the Kingdom comes by doing Kingdom things. 

Let me do an action that loves neighbour and enemy. Let me do an action that seeks out and finds Jesus among the marginalised. Let me make myself, who my fallen nature has a default position of putting first, last and the person I judge as last, first. Let me me love others as I would wish to be loved. Let me seek God first and not worry about all that stuff that has the world at war and individuals in therapy. Let me not just hear Jesus words but be a like a wise man who builds his house on a rock by doing them.

We now live in the space between redemption won and the final fulfilment of God's will being done on earth. Getting ready for the Kingdom before the Kingdom comes. Now that is a fantastic spiritual exercise for Lent. Wonderful preparation! 


Palm Sunday

If we cock our ears and listen carefully to the story of Easter week we will hear something utterly counter intuitive, upside down, inside out, socially subversive, spiritually perverse and utterly crazy…

On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds were on adrenaline rush. They thought the King was coming. A victorious King. They were singing, they were waving palm branches. This was the one who was coming to overthrow, to set up power, to rule over those Romans. The chosen people were fighting back. We were days away from the big WIN. Stand up for the Galilean man!

The donkey was a clue. And the lack of arms. Jesus was actually riding into Jerusalem to get beaten… literally. He was heading towards defeat head on. This was not going to end well. Jesus was a loser… losing… for losers. When his big rough tough body guard Peter went to fight Jesus told him to put away his sword, his Kingdom was not of this world. 

St. Paul put it best (Philippians 2: 6-8)…

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Jesus was about a very different kind of Kingdom. It was going to be strong in humility, powerful in grace, dangerous in love. It was not going to be anything like this world. 

It was what he had been about all along. Blessed are the meek. If someone strikes you on one cheek then turn the other cheek too. Do good to those who persecute you. The first will be last and the last will be first. All his teaching was made flesh as Jesus walked through Easter week. 

 If we cock the ears of our soul and listen really closely this week we will hear Jesus whisper, “follow me”… yet if we are honest we are still trying to fight, to win, to take power as the world does. It is in the humility of Jesus that the world is changed and transformed. It is in giving up our lives that we find the redemptive power of resurrection life. 




Passion Walk

Imagine if you could step into the Passion narratives of Jesus and bring them alive. Imagine if you didn't have to fly to Jerusalem to do it. Imagine if you could do it in your own city over the Easter weekend.

Well this Easter if you live right here in Belfast you can do just that. The Passion Walk was developed in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2013 by writer and journalist Susan Mansfield. Moved by the experience, Northern Ireland's Joy Gowdy asked Susan to bring it to Belfast. Back in January Susan and Joy spoke in Fitzroy about the role of walking in spirituality. They certainly inspired us about the potential of the Passion Walk.

So, this weekend, why not take time out to ponder the Easter story? Take time to reflect on the journey of Christ to the cross. By hearing the Gospel narratives as you walk to appropriate parts of Belfast you will feel the Passion coming alive. This is a unique opportunity for some spiritual reflection and nourishment. 

Walkers are invited to begin their journey at Grosvenor House, 5 Glengall Street (behind the Opera House) any time between 10am and 1pm on Friday 3rd April (Good Friday) and Saturday 4th April. Walk at your own pace, alone or with friends. The Walk ends with refreshments and a space for reflection at The Dock Cafe in Titanic Quarter.

click here or more information


Take Up Your Cross

“It’s a funny thing about humility
As soon as you know you're being humble
You're no longer humble
It's a funny thing about life
You've got to give up your life
To be alive”

Giving up your life to be alive. A strange saying in Trap Door, a song by T-Bone Burnett. Yet, it is an explosive little paraphrase of like so many subversive disconcerting phrases at the heart of Jesus message. 

As we in Fitzroy have been journeying through Luke’s Travel Narrative (Luke chapters 9-19 - unique to his Gospel account) we have been hearing about the cost of following Jesus. At the end of chapter 9 and again at the end of chapter 14 there are three short interactions where Jesus lays out what it will cost to follow him. 

Perhaps the harshest of all is:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Goodness me! This is difficult and challenging stuff! Yet, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus is heading towards the cross. These travel narratives begin with him setting his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). As he heads towards his cross, to give up his life that we might live, the cost for Jesus himself is in the forefront of his mind. 

In that frame of mind and soul he is warning those who would dare follow him what it will cost. 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9: 23-24) Surely, the verse that T-Bone Burnett has in mind when he wrote, “You gotta give up your life to be alive.”

As I preached this on Sunday morning I at one stage was looking at the text and the looking at a very intelligent, articulate, passionate, committed community of believers and myself and was so disconcerted by how far we are from this profoundly alternative way to live life. 

I started asking where in MY life am I paying any cost? Where am I denying myself? Where am I in any shape or form carrying a cross? Where is my life in any remote way looking like being a disciple of Christ? Where? The chasm between the Biblical text that we gather round and on a Sunday and the gatherers seemed so very wide at that moment of the sermon.

So where do we need to pay the cost, deny our rights and sacrifice ourselves for others. In the sermon I love at prejudice, wealth and self righteousness. A few days on and I am still very disconcerted.

to listen to the entire sermon click here Fitzroy Media Player and then click The Cost sermon

PRE DAWN ANGST and PSALM 27 - Lenten Surmise #9 (guest blog by Frances Livingstone)

Fitz logo 1

(In Fitzroy we are doing short Reflections each Sunday during Lent and this was one that Frances Livingstone did. It was so insightful that I thought it should be a rare Guest Blog on Soul Surmise. Thank you Frances for permission to publish.)

I came across a new word recently, courtesy of my daughter, and when I have passed it on in conversation to others, their response has been, to say the least, conspicuous. Not because it’s a beautiful sounding word , which it is, or that its derivation is unusual, which is also true, but because its meaning resonates with the experience of, dare I suggest, all of us. It’s an Old English word, uhtceare, meaning pre-dawn angst,  you know those hours just before day break when we often lie awake, anxious about our own problems or those of the people we love,   or anxious about anticipated problems not yet upon us.

I found myself thinking about this when I encountered the first reading of our Lenten booklet, Psalm 27. David starts off boldly:- “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” and then immediately launches into the various threats that he has experienced or is currently encountering. They are very much to the forefront of his mind. His problems are not minor; the vocabulary makes that clear – he talks about evil men devouring his flesh; foes attacking him; armies besieging him; wars breaking outagainst him. But he insists, in spite of this, that he will be kept safe,that God will hide him, shelter him, set him high upon a rock out of danger. It really looks as though David has it all sorted!

And then we come to the third phase of the psalm and the pace quickens; his mood changes; his confidence is replaced by desperation. So David also experiences the whole welter of emotions. What a relief!    His moods fluctuate; his confidence and faith ebb and flow just like ours.   “Do not hide your face…..do not turn your servant away. Do not reject me or forsake me”, he begs. “Teach me, lead me. Do not hand me over” he pleads. Maybe David’s pre-dawn angst isn’t so very different from our own;   he too wants a quick fix.

And then it’s as if there’s a long pause between the first 12 verses and the last two. He has poured himself out emotionally and then, in verses 13 and 14, it’s as if a spirit of calm returns and a quiet confidence rises as he asserts. : “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and waitfor the Lord”…. I think I’ll try to rebuff those pre-dawn demons, that uhtceare, with these words, next time they attack.


Follow me 5


If only Jesus had said to Peter…

Put your hand up at a rally…

Pray this prayer after me…

Go to Church…

Sing new worship songs…

Believe all these doctrines…


If only Jesus had said to Peter…

But he didn’t 

He said,

"Follow me..."

Into the daily dynamic of dilemma

In decision making

Decided upon the radical alternative way that I lived.


Come with me in to the minutes and hours of each day

Come with me among the people you wouldn’t really want to be with

Come with me into dangerous and dirty and hostile places

Come with me and let us love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind

Come with me as we love our neighbours as ourselves

Come with me as we learn to love our enemies

Come with me to the cross of uncomfortable and painful sacrifice and self denial

Come with me and let us journey towards the person I laid down my life that you might be.


If only Jesus had said to Peter...

But he didn’t 

He said, "Follow me..."


God give me the courage, the wisdom and strength to follow...





READ: LUKE 10: 29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

It would be easy to read this as a story that tells us to be nice to our neighbour. That would not be a wrong… BUT it would be missing a lot too. As I have read this parable afresh, during this Lenten journey through Luke, I have been struck by the difference between the RIGHT thing and the GOD thing.

As the Priest and Levite rush by, don’t let them out of your soul’s sight too quickly. Hold them in view long enough to see that they were maybe doing the right thing. If this beaten up guy is dead, or near to it, then getting too close will break the purity laws of the religiously committed. Don’t be too hard on these guys. They do the RIGHT thing! 

Jesus then adds his semtex moment to the story. He introduces a Samaritan. The Jewish religious leader Jesus was answering, in the telling of the parable, would be turned almost nauseous with sectarian hatred. Then… Jesus goes even further… the Samaritan stops with the beaten up man, binds his wounds and generously pays for his recovery. This is outrageous. The Samaritan’s kind act would not have been the RIGHT thing to do in his community. He had reached across his religious, race and political lines in an act of grace. Some might have called it betrayal. 

What I have been surmising this week, as I have read and reread this familiar parable, is that sometimes the RIGHT THING and the GOD thing are different. We need to get out from the cultural, political, religious RIGHT thing, to what Jesus was inspiring us to do. Time and time again Jesus dismissed doing the RIGHT thing to do the GOD thing. Religious purity, no matter how important that might be, was secondary to caring for a beaten up man. That was an act of grace modelling Christ’s grace towards broken humanity. Jesus died for people not principles.

PONDER: Are there principles we hold above people. Are there areas in our lives we put the right thing above the GOD thing?


Cross carriers

READ: Luke 9: 57-58 

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus has just set his face towards Jerusalem, towards his cross and actually beyond that towards ascension. He meets a few people on the way who are interested in committing to follow him. In his reactions as recorded succinctly by Luke we learn something of what being a follower of Jesus is about.

In this first encounter the cost of following is laid out. Here is someone who is offering to follow. Jesus wants to make it clear that this is not something you should decide on a whim. It is going to be costly and you need to think through whether you are really up for it. 

Jesus did not ask disciples to pray a prayer, believe a few creedal statements, go to Church every week, sing new worships songs or wear a badge. He said “follow me.” This is a life commitment of sacrifice and discomfort. As Jesus told the disciples earlier in this very same chapter “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

PONDER: Giving up chocolate for Lent is easy compared to following Jesus. Where is our following feeling like denial and cross carrying?


Parades St Patricks

(In Fitzroy this Lenten Season we are studying as a Church community the chapters of Luke 9-19 that have been called the travel narratives. I am trying to blog thoughts as I read…)

READ Luke 9: 51-56

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

The Travel Narratives start here. This is a section of stories unique to Luke and it begins here at the end of Chapter 9 with Luke telling us that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. And as Desi Alexander pointed out to us in Fitzroy Jesus ascension is the end goal of Luke’s intentions - “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.”

For me though in our Northern Irish context I was drawn to this desire of James and John to bring the judgement down. We are always so quick to condemn and throw damnation at others. In Northern Ireland evangelicalism I would describe it as epidemic. When someone thinks anything different than our “infallible” opinions we call them names and dismiss them in the most unChristian of ways. Deluded into thinking we are standing for truth, we smash the good news of Jesus grace. We take God's name in vain and ruin his reputation.

My friend Doug Gay, preaching in Fitzroy, suggested that this traditional route from Galilee to Jerusalem that Jesus was travelling,  and being met with opposition by those of another faith and political allegiance, might have resonance in Northern Ireland. When your songs of creed are met with opposition what do you do? Sing louder! Bring down judgement? Jesus just moves on.

Before we condemn James and John, let us search our own hearts for where we want to damn? Then let us see that James and John actually ask Jesus first. What a great idea? How many of our reactionary responses would be softened with grace if we asked first, “Lord do you want us to…?

PONDER: How do we respond to those who differ with us and don’t hold as dear what we believe? Let us begin to ask Jesus how we shook respond and find his grace in our reactions.



Cross on Bible

“Surrender don't come natural to me 

I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want 

Than to take what You give that I need 

And I've beat my head against so many walls 

Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees 

And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn 

And Your grace rings out so deep 

It makes my resistance seem so thin 

I'm singing hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf 

You have been King of my glory 

Won't You be my Prince of Peace”

-      From Hold Me Jesus by Rich Mullins

It is Lent, a season when Christians consider self denial on the run up to Easter. Of course, self denial should not be for just 40 days. It is the call of Jesus by his grace to follow him; “anyone who comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” “Daily” he calls, not “annually”. Mind you if there has ever been a time in history where these words are difficult it is now. In a world where self gratification is instant in that we can message, bully, buy and sell instantaneously from our phones Jesus call really is counter intuitive. It breaks the defaults of the conditioning of our society.

Rich Mullins’ words here say it all - “Surrender don't come natural to me/I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want/Than to take what You give that I need." God doesn’t call us to self denial to spoil our fun. We fight God to hold onto what in eternity and even in the here and now we don’t need. We don’t take what God has to offer that would transform not only our own souls but the world we live in. Those who lack attachment are those who make the difference and live at peace. This Lent may Jesus' grace ring out deep and may it redeem us into what we were made for.