LC halle

“I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah”

          From Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

These words for some reason some up my own personal thoughts on Remembrance Day. The flags that fly, the fuss that is made never seem a celebration to me. Celebrations of battle victories should never be used as an opportunity to wave flags in the faces of the vanquish. It is not a time to gloat but a time to poignantly remember those who died, usually young, because humanity stooped to such depths of inhumanity to one another. It is a time to remember so that we might learn to never do again.

Cohen’s Hallelujah creates this emotion and belief beautifully. This is Cohen’s downbeat reputation with a glimpse of light always lurking. This is praise in the midst of brokenness. This is meekness and mourning on a day when we could show the worst of human traits. We have performed this song in Fitzroy on Remembrance Services and I quote it an awful lot!


Chris and Nichola

I have always been taken by John Lennon’s line, “Imagine there’s no heaven.” It always seems dot me to be an anti-Lennon thought. It seems to me to curtail imagination that I thought John and Yoko were all for. It is easy. A much harder thought and one that could fire imagination would be what if there is a heaven. Not a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die opiate but one that inspired the transformation on earth of what we imagine.

So, I wrote a poetic conversation with the late John Lennon (you can read it here). As this year’s 4 Corners Festival approached I wondered about writing a lyric for the launch. Then I thought that maybe it was already written. This year’s Festival has imagination as one of its themes and we are imagining a Belfast without walls at one of the events.

So, I sent the said rhyming conversation with Lennon to Chris Wilson who as you can see chipped away at the rough stone to hone a song that did the job very nicely.  

Maybe there is a heaven

where wrongs are made right

not some ethereal answer

a place where dark becomes light


What if there is a heaven

a place where neighbours are loved

where captives are set free

but it’s here not above


Imagine this city without walls

Imagine a grace with the power to make them fall

and love, love reigns here

oh love, love reigns here


There just might be a heaven

a place where the blind get their sight

a place where every person

finds purpose and life


What if there is a heaven

a place of tangible hope

where every weary traveller

finds rest and love


Imagine this city without walls

Imagine a grace with the power to make them fall

and love, love reigns here

oh love, love reigns here

Tonight (Sunday Feb 1st) at 7pm at St. Malachy’s Church on Alfred Street Michele Marken and myself will unpack a theology of Imagination. All Welcome.



A seed was sown

With a simple bow

Where we remembered our heroes

She said the time has come now

She laid her wreath

With dignity and grace

An eloquent silence

And softness in her face

She lowered her head down

And held the pose

My tears flowed freely

God only knows

She remembered our losses

She remembered her own

And in that moment

A seed was sown…..

St. Patrick’s day always sends me back to Irish music. I am not so much drawn to the trad folk but to the abundance of brilliant songwriters. Luka Bloom is one of those. So, after I am drawn to the artists I then look for the song that speaks into my Irishness on this Irishness of days. See it as my liturgical reflection on what is a holy day. 

Today, it was Luka’s song about that amazing day in May 2011 when Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland and along with President Mary McAleese literally acknowledged and then changed history. On his website Luka Bloom tells a very moving story about how A Seed Was Sown came about. Like me, he had little reason to think anything important could come from such a visit. Turning on the TV he was suddenly engaged and moved by one simple moment when two women, significant in position but rarely potent with power, sowed a seed that could change our island forever. As the Queen of Britain and the President of Ireland remembered their dead together something happened. 

Today I surmise this event, through this song, as a moment when the past was honoured and the present was changed to give a launching pad to a different future. There is a healing through the remembering not only for a British Queen and an Irish President personally but for two nations. How we have seen and treated our past citizens has warped and twisted the way we look at one another in the present. What our leaders did on those days in 2011 was to courageously transform the landscape to leave us with new fertile terrain to sow seeds to a better future. Whether we follow will be the test of our Britishness or our Irishness. They have given us the example… My prayer for St. Patrick’s day is that we follow!


Deacon Blue Hipsters

"How do you carry this sorrow

How do you know when to let go."

-     From Is There No Way Back To You by Deacon Blue

On their brand new Top 20 record, Hipsters, this line leaped out the pastor in me as one of the best questions asked since Jesus asked the man by the pool, “Do you want to get healed?” Deacon Blue’s principle songwriter Ricky Ross has been as good a pastoral songwriter as anyone else, dealing with the sorrow that all of us will have to live through at some stage in our lifetimes. How we carry that sorrow and how we learn to let go of that sorrow will define us as human beings able to traverse a world that can be heartbreaking on a regular basis. If we carry our sorrow wrong or if we hold on to it and make it our identity, the reason we find other people’s attention, then healing, restoration and redemption will never arrive. If we can allow God to heal us it will perhaps sharpen the pain but will be our only hope of a way through. Paul wrote in Ephesians about putting off the old self and putting on the new self. There he was primarily interested in the mind but following Jesus is about that transformation in body, mind, heart and soul.  The salvation that Jesus came to bring is about us becoming whole, emotionally and mentally as well as spiritually. It is about teaching us “when to let go.” 

In Memory Of Victor Jara (Freedom Singer)


When Pinochet seized Chile they arrested Victor then -
They caged him in the stadium with 5000 frightened men

Victor picked up his guitar his voice resounded strong
And he sang for his comrades till the guards cut short his song

They broke the bones in both his hands and beat him on the head
Tortured him with electric wires then they shot him dead

Victor Jara of Chile lived like a shooting star
He fought for the people of Chile with his songs and his guitar
His hands were gentle and his hands were strong

- from Victor Jara by Christy Moore (written by Guthrie/Mitchell)

Christy Moore is an Irish singer who sings of Irish ways and Irish issues but he does not limit himself to songs of oppression at home. He has collected, performed and recorded songs about various freedom fighters across the world. Biko Drum about Steve Biko and a nod to Mandela in South Africa, The Disappeared mentions the martyred Catholic Bishop Oscar Romero and this song that seems to be a live favourite of Moore’s Victor Jara.

Jara was a Chilean singer songwriter like Moore. He used his art to speak out for the socialist leader Salvador Allende who won the Chilean elections in 1970. A coup set up by right wing dictator Pinochet with the help of America overthrew Allende in 1973. Allende featured with Jara in a Moving Hearts' song Allende. Many of Allende’s supporters including Jara was taken to the Chilean national stadium  where they broke the bones in Jara’s hands so he couldn’t play guitar and asked him to sing, similar cruel fun poking humiliation that Christ experienced at his cross. Jara sang We Will Win and they beat him some more before riddling his body with 44 bullets and dumping his body in the streets. In 2003 the stadium was renamed Victor Jara Stadium. Christy Moore’s sings it with a beautiful defiance full of dignity and inspiration.



“I have seen the slow corruption
Of the best ideas of Christ
In the pulpits of our nation
Gospel turned into white lies
If you preach a subtle hatred -
The bible as your alibi
Goddam you right here in Ohio.”

-      From All Over Ohio by Over The Rhine

Linford and Karin from Over The Rhine are much more a pastoral band than a political band but when they make political point they always hit the nail; prophetic punch with poetic grace.

And so on their new record Meet Me At The Edge Of The World. A double album of songs about life, love and the farmland of Ohio, is all encapsulated in this opening song of disc 2. In a lovely conversation between the duo, who are a married couple, declaring their love and need of each other, Linford takes this political/ecclesiastical nail and hammers it in.

Christian faith has often incited hatred rather than defuse it as Christ so wonderfully did. There is this almost unbelievable ability to read the Gospels about Jesus, where he models humility and speaks of love for neighbour and enemy, and preach sermons that incite hatred, sectarianism and division.

If it angers Linford in Ohio then it needs also exposed in Northern Ireland. An arrogance and pride that sets us up above others or other social or religious groupings is a slow corruption of Christ’s teaching. Humility, confession, repentance and need for forgiveness are central to our understanding of the Gospel; the opposite of arrogance indeed.

Fellow preachers? Beware. If we corrupt; goddam!

ALL THINGS ALL AT ONCE; Tired Pony and Northern Ireland's Deep Divide

Lightbody in Irish shirt

“It’s not one thing or the other

It’s all things all at once...”

-          From All Things All At Once by Tired Pony

The most Topanga Canyon sounding song off the new Tired Pony record recorded there, this Gary Lightbody love song throws up this couplet that jumped out at me as a great line of hopefulness for his native Northern Ireland, seemingly more polarized that it has been for some time. Last night, on UTV Live Tonight, Paul Clark was joined by representatives of the 4 main political parties in Northern Ireland and Jeffrey Donaldson from the DUP was honest enough to say that there are some issues on which agreement will be very difficult to find; the division is wide!

Into such a scenario Tired Pony’s words offer hopeful alternative in the midst of the seeming impossible. Northern Ireland will never find the shalom, that deep down everyone would love, until we come to conjure in our wildest imaginations a society where it is not the victory of our way over their way or the defeat of their way over our way but “all things all at once.”

I personally love the “all things all at once” of living on the island of Ireland in the middle of the Venn diagram between Ireland and the UK. I love being able to cheer for Andy Murray as a fellow Brit but last weekend I was chuffed to be in Bray and hoped that Katie Taylor my Irish heroine might walk past. Gary Lightbody sang, with his other band Snow Patrol, on their song Lifening, “Ireland in the World Cup/Either North or South,” and so, in soccer terms too, he wants “all things all at once.”

It becomes much more difficult when we start thinking of the symbols, icons, heroes and history of the “one thing or the other”. We find in Northern Ireland that a flag is not so much about celebrating an identity as much as having a go at the other community. The flying of flags over communities is so indelibly engraved in the psyche that the other’s flag can raise deep seated hatred. I know of a friend from the north who married a man from the south and moved to Dublin. She had to have prayer concerning her difficulty in dealing with the Irish flag! It gets even more difficult when a hero on one side killed the ancestors or even contemporary family members of the other. I remember, while I was living in Dublin, sitting in Kilmainham Gaol watching video footage of a history that seemed so alien to what I had grown up with; heroes celebrated that my default position saw as terrorists and the enemy! My mind, heart and soul were fried. It took some time and soul searching to realign!

So, I am not being naive in how this works out but it needs to work and we need to move on. It needs to work out in how we tolerate and, dare I dream to suggest appreciate, each other’s parades. The reality is that neither side is going away. Both sides are going to continue to live in this small, and beautiful, piece of land. We need that prayer that my friend had prayed that we learn, maybe against our natural intuition, to live in a country where “it’s all things all at once.”


Killers 2

“And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes
Clear your heart
Cut the cord...”

-      From Human by The Killers

This was the lyric that I carried all the way through the process of leaving a job I loved in Queen’s University Chaplaincy to go back into parish ministry at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church back in 2009. For me, the invitation to consider becoming the minister at Fitzroy was a huge honour and I had to think about it but I had never considered going back into Church life. Fitzroy’s potential excited me but I was nervous every time I caught sight of that open door. Being a Presbyterian process, it took eight months between the initial phone call to think about it and to actually being installed as minister. Throughout that wait I sang over and over again this spiritual wisdom of Brandon Flowers.

I had to close my eyes and seek God in ways I had never done. Prayer, connecting with God, was vital. If I was going to take the risk that this would be for me and my family, I needed to find time to talk it over with God and to listen. I would need to be sure that the fit was right and that I was taking the next step in my following of Jesus.

Next up I had to clear my heart in readiness for a spiritual change, the way we cleared our house for the physical move. I needed to take all the selfish ideas of my own which might have been the selfishness for safety or the selfishness of being flattered that Fitzroy were interested and what a prestigious thing to be their minister. The heart needed cleared of me, to be given the holy space that might allow God to fill that heart with what was good.

In the end, after all was weighed up and without any doubt in my heart and mind that God was calling us to go... we had to cut the cord! The last might be the trickiest of all. It means leaving where all is safe and comfortable and jumping with faith and trust into the new world that beckons. To move on means not looking back. It is done and I am thankful to these words as the soundtrack to the entire process. Like Paul in Philippians, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Once again I thank The Killers for being spiritually helpful at that cord cutting time of my life.

GOOD MORNING... G8 - A Lyric For IF Campaign Week

G8 Flag

“The past is steeped in shame

But tomorrow's fair game

For a life that's fit for living

Good morning Britain”

-      From Good Morning Britain by Aztec Camera

One of those bizarre moments this morning. On the school run I had just dropped off my daughters and had had enough of pop radio. Switching to my CD Fleetwood Mac came chiming in and I thought, “I have been listening to them for a couple of weeks I’ll just flick on Chris Evans.” What is Evans playing at that very moment? What are the chances? Yip, Fleetwood Mac! As Sad Angel from their brand new Extended Play ep finished Evans asked what the public thought the tune was a copy of? It was a theme from this morning’s show. Evans thought it sounded just like Good Morning Britain by Aztec Camera.

I am a fan of Aztec Camera but never warmed to this tune. This morning was different. On this week when Northern Ireland hosts the G8 Summit and I am involved in the IF Campaign to put pressure on those leaders to end world hunger, these lines kicked into my morning brain. There is a deep shame that we have gotten to 2013 and still not ended world hunger. That humans have concentrated their minds on so many other things and left so many hungry and starving is actually very hard to fathom. The achievements of human endeavour are many and great but the shame that other things have been more of a priority than ending world hunger. Words fail! 

And yet tomorrow and the future is open to us; fair game! The Christian faith that I believe is all about ridding the shame of the past and living for a better, redeemed future. It is time to rid ourselves of the same and find a life fit for living for all. World leaders this is a call to you all. May your days on Loch Erne have you wake up to a Good Morning... Britain, America, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, Russia!! Tomorrow is fair game!


City Of Ruins

Now with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands

-      from My City Of Ruins by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen as a prayer master. That is where we get to on this song, from The Rising album, that was written not about New York City but Asbury Park. However, after 9/11 Springsteen used it to somehow be a lament BUT also a hopeful prayer for the awful events of that New York morning in 2001.

It could be a song about anyone’s hometown and can be used as a musical prayer that not only pleads that God would “rend the heavens and come down” as Isaiah once prayed but then make ourselves available for the way God answers. I have criticised Yoko Ono in the past for suggesting, as she has, that imagination in itself can change the world. Of course it can’t. We need to imagine the transformation needed but then we need to go out and make the dreams we conjure happen. Christians can use prayer in Yoko Ono ways, believing that the prayer itself changes it. We need to always remember that God’s way is that we should pray and then get up of our knees and offer our lives to be instruments by which he can answer them.

 So let us use Bruce’s words to seek God’s help, without which nothing can happen, but then let us offer our own hands and ask God to give strength and faith as we use them to bring his kingdom and his will to the streets of New York, Asbury, south Belfast and wherever your hometown is.