STOCKI SURMISING

STOCKI ON DAILY BLOGGING - AND SIGNING OFF FOR VACATION

Stocki and Jani 21

When I moved to Fitzroy in 2009 I realised that any ideas of writing more books were pretty much gone. I had my Masters dissertation pretty close to book form but I left it. 

When I write books I need time lots of time to get back in from where I was, to find the next chapters. Days. Weeks. I am so glad to got the time on my 2018 sabbatical to ghost write Trevor Stevenson’s memoir, From Killing Fields To Fields Of Life. That was a lovely wee surprise!

Anyway, back to 2009. I then thought. I could blog more. During the 2010 World Cup, as it was in South Africa that I had written so much about, I decided to blog every day for that month. For eleven now years I have kept going. Just 500 words or so, an article, review, poem from beginning to end, everyday. 

I don’t always do it. When I am tired my imagination wanes and I have to repost old blogs. Or re-write them. Yet, I have been sending out something most days for over a decade and I am very thankful that many of you read those thoughts. Thank you. The next year should see Soul Surmise pass 1 million hits. Wow! Thank you again.

To the point. Today I start my summer vacation. I treat it pretty religiously. I believe I should. I have blogged about that too.

So, I take the pressure off myself. I go on social media less. I only write blogs about what I am reading, listening to and rhyming. Any meaty articles get noted for post holiday. If I don’t write one thing for a month so be it but usually I like reviewing the book I have just read as it helps me untangle what I got from it. Hopefully it might be a good recommendation for your own summer reading.

Why do I say all of this. To remind myself to allow myself to be led by quiet waters. To commit to sabbath. Maybe it is also a last preach to all of you. Whatever, you do in ordinary time, leave it down for holiday time. Take the weight off. Find empty days. Those are the days where refreshment is most fertile. 

Let’s do it!


GLENN, MARK, BRUCE & ME - KINGS HALL, 21.7.2013

Kings Hall 13

 

Friends remind me that this photo was taken 8 years ago today. I was meant to be going shopping for paint! A phone call told me there was a free Bruce Springsteen ticket. When were they heading down I asked. In half an hour they said. Why? It'll not start until 8. Oh no, he'll do a wee set if we get in with the first in the queue. Really?!?!

It was a hot July day just like today. I enjoyed sitting with Glenn and Mark as much as I enjoyed the gig. They told me tall tales of their Bruce bromance. I thought I was a fan! In their shadow, maybe not! 

Bruce did play the wee secret set for the crazies. I was so thrilled to be among them. The entire gig was amazing. My review can be read HERE

Glenn gifted me that ticket. He never said. He and Mark made up more tall tales of how an extra one arrived in the post or how Glenn's son needed to go to Dublin.

He gifted me that ticket! It was who he was. It was an amazing day. As well  as the ticket he and Mark welcomed me into their gang. We partied. We made memories that I am basking in again today.

Thank you dear brother. It was a Glory Day. Wish we could do it again. I'd buy you. We'd pay anything for just one more song!

 

I loved when you took me chasing God

Up ahead and never looking over your shoulder

We knew everything when we were young

But relished all the questions, getting older

And you’re thoughts took us out there

But you always landed them, flesh on

In the hidden quiet moments of generosity

That’s where peace, love and justice got done.

 

And we’re standing in the King’s Hall sun

South Belfast basking in a saxophone wailing

The smile on our faces lighting the evening

Our big hearts and sweet souls are sailing

Between Atlantic City and Bangor pier

Our sails so full and the skies so clear

 

If we ever had the time again

Then I would make more time

In the meantime I’ll hear your whispering

In every Bruce Springsteen rhyme.


MY LONGING TO EXPLORE GOD

Magic Rings

I didn’t want my soul to be saved from hell as much as I wanted to know God. God. Imagine that. God. I couldn’t. As David Gray said, probably not about God, “we are trying to spell what the wind can’t explain”.

The first step of following Jesus for me was a leap into the biggest adventure that I could imagine a human can take. I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from Richard Bach’s short novel, wanting to fly like no other gull has ever flown… or human being had ever lived. I was seeking that “life in all its fulness” that Jesus invited us into in John 10:10.

As a seventeen year old I felt like Digory in CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. In that, the first novel chronologically in the Narnia Chronicles but not first published, Digory and Polly find magic rings that bring them into Narnia through a dank pool. Polly wants to go back to safety but Digory says, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there.”

I believed that Jesus life and cross and resurrection was the miraculous act of God that had tossed me into this other world. I wanted to spend my life looking. I was mad keen to jump headlong into mystery and vastness. 

It feels that what then happened was that they handed me a couple of books. Here’s all you need to know in this tome of systematic theology. God confined to a few hundred pages! Here’s another one about what to do and not to do. They told me it was very clearcut. Biblical they called it. There was no room for questions or doubts. No room for mystery for that matter. Adventure and risk seemed frowned upon. 

Forty years later and I am still seeking more. More about God than was in the books. I am still seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into what the Bible really does say. I am mad keen to find out what it sounded like to those who wrote it and heard it for the first time. I want to know where our cultural lenses over 2000 years have shaped it, perhaps wrongly. I find a lot of wrongly!

Oh I know that my cultural glasses will make errors too. I am aware that I might shift the swing of the pendulum too far. But I am not into this for some safe sitting around at the corner of the stagnant pool talking about the colour of the magic ring or I how held it to get in. I want to step out beyond. I am up for the daily dynamic of the dilemma that is discipleship in a mad crazy 21st century world, not simple do this and do that following.

So, in this week that I have been given to reflect and read I am reading about the culture of Jesus day, about how the Bible works and how to preach better. The preaching is why I was born, my reason to be magiced the rings, my place in this vast ginormous kingdom that I am still exploring daily. 

None of the books might be deemed to be safe in certain theological jurisdictions but as CS Lewis also said, “Aslan is not safe but he is good.” Aslan, he also said, was on the move and I am up for the chasing after!


HOW STREAMING IS ROBBING ARTISTS - A FAN'S VIEW

Iain Archer 3

Iain Archer and James Bay with their Ivor Novello awards for Hold Back The River

 

I caught my friend Iain Archer on the BBC Northern Ireland news this morning. He was giving evidence to MPs about the injustices going on in the music industry as a result of streaming.

For some time I have wondered about how to buy music. The simple answer is that I do not need to buy music at all. I stream it for free or very very cheap.

For this music listener, however, streaming simply doesn’t work. Oh I enjoy the immediacy. I used to wait months until my parents would take me on holidays to find a shop in Edinburgh that stocked All Things Must Pass. The 50th anniversary edition of that classic George Harrison record is out soon and I can stream the odd track already. Something is lost.

But there is so much more. I have also worked with musicians. Managed them in an amateurish way, booked them for festivals, played them on my radio show, interviewed them and reviewed their work. I value them.

I want them to have a career so that they can make more of the music that I like and not force them into jobs that they are not made for.

Iain has been part of Gomez’s Tom Gray's Broken Record campaign that has been demanding that the government look at the injustices of streaming. They are calling for a “complete reset” of music royalties.

They have quite a case. When you listen to a song on Spotify the writer might get £0.0038 and Apple is not much better at £0.0059. 

Iain explained to MPs that a million plays of a song might earn him £450. Using the song Be A Nobody that he co-wrote with Soak, after 1,402,712 streams in a year his publisher collected a mere £118.80.

It doesn’t take you to be a business brain to catch a whiff of the scandal. It seems that the streaming platforms and even the music industry is making money that the creators of the art are not. Call this slavery, call it unfair trade, call it what you like… it is a serious injustice.

Though I have continued to buy music throughout this streaming era in order to support artists, I am finding that a tricky dilemma these days. Record companies are not making it easy.

The CD is on the wain. I don’t put CDs in CD players any more. Cars don’t even have CD players. I listen online more than anything BUT I want to pay and I want more than an mp3 for my money as I am not even sure that I own that!

Vinyl is how I prefer to listen to music. The quality of the sound is so much superior than in the late 80s. The packaging is still the best. That collecting aspect comes into it. Setting the needle down and sitting back makes the listening more quantifiable than listening off my lap top as I blog!

BUT…

Vinyl is costing over £20, often times £30. Oh the CD is £12 but, as I have said, that is neither functional nor as satisfying. It doesn’t seem worth the extra £12 from streaming it. The vinyl hits the spot BUT I am being priced out of that. Or if I buy I won’t be able to afford many.

I see myself as the honest, industry supporting, collector that record labels want to target but as you can see they have me in a functional and financial dilemma that could leave me concluding that it is easier to stream.

Fans need a good deal too. Something has to change in music or we are going to lose those that we need most… those who make the music. Here’s to all of us supporting the Broken Record campaign. 

Rock Against Injustice to Rock Musicians!


SURMISING LIVE AND ONLINE SERVICES

Stocki in Ho's TV

I am slowly coming to terms with two services on a Sunday. Now before my colleagues who have double, even treble charges and have been two and three services a week for years respond on the comments section, I am talking about an online and a live service.

It took time to come to terms with online services back in March 2020. I am thankful that with a great technical team and some amazing musicians and singers, never mind readers and prayers, we quickly thrived. I revelled in the imagination and creativity. My teenage dreams of being a journalist fulfilled!

Back in October I initially struggled going back into church. Our reach and invention online was intoxicating. Being back in church with a small number. I could only see the couple of hundred who were not there. Then there were masks. I thought they would neutralise faces. They were worse. They gave a distinct look of total disinterest.  

When we returned in late April I was more acclimatised and started enjoying the services. I am always hard on myself and after I preach the online recording, usually on a Friday evening, I am always thinking of where it could be better. Now I get a chance to make it better at Sunday’s gathering. Then I drive home after the live service thinking which bits were better and which worse than the online one! Head fried!

Mostly, the sermon for both services is the same script but as an artistic preacher who is very aware of feel, there’re are a lot of variables. The band is always different. There is a congregation to create a more interactive dynamic. A camera is hard to feel. I have to work harder at the recordings. Yet, online you can drop in a song for added impact.

So this Sunday, the sermon script is again the same. From Mark 6 I am riffing off the idea that Jesus is somehow a scandal in his hometown, opening up the scandal that grace and the Gospel really is. How does that Prodigal Son get away with it... or me for that matter!

However, around me in the gathering will be our almost classical and jazz mix up of David Livingstone’s piano and Richard Guthrie’s viola in worship, whereas online we have the youthful Jonny Fitch doing a couple of old hymns and the even younger Talitha Bowman adding a little extra. 

So there will be spiritual nuances seeping out from both versions. After 16 months I am pretty convinced of that. Even when I think the sermon is not much more than average the feedback has been phenomenal. To the point that I wonder if what the congregation is hearing bears any resemblance to anything I am speaking.

I kid you not. I remember shaking hands at the door of Lucan one Sunday morning and a man held my hand vigorously, saying that the sermon was God speaking directly to him. He went on at length about my two edged sword line in particular. I went back inside and asked a few friends but we all agreed that I had not mentioned a two edged sword at any stage of the service! You see what I mean!

Anyway this Coronavirus time has been a challenge for the preacher with many lessons to learn. We need to continue to take it one week at a time. 

 

See you tomorrow - live in Fitzroy at 11 or on Fitzroy TV from 11. 


VULNERABILITY OF BEING A PATIENT - AND GOD, THE SOUL SURGEON

Stocki in hospital

photo from a hospital stay in 2020

 

If you had been reading my blog regularly over the past couple of years you will know that I have had a few minor health blips. Twice, once scheduled and once utterly unexpected, I have blogged from a hospital bed. 

There have been a few minor blips this year too and with them little investigations. I have a wee investigation this week that I am not at all looking forward too. It's not dangerous but it might be a little uncomfortable. 

Operating theatres make me apprehensive. I am sure I not alone. Those hospital gowns. Are you ever as vulnerable as you are on a hospital trolley, at the mercy of strangers, no matter how well they are qualified?! 

Yet, when you are suffering, you are almost eager to get in there. Do something! Make me well!

As well as apprehension, there is anticipation. I am already praying that they get to the bottom of something that has been effecting me for years and been more problematic these last few. It would be good to know that it can be curtailed, medicated, healed even. 

Doctors and consultants are a blessing when they can bring your life back to its full health and strength. 

God is the soul doctor. The soul surgeon.

To bring my life to the “life in all its fulness” of John 10:10, we need to be prepared to lie down in the operating theatre of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be prepared to be vulnerable before God. We need to be courageous about the pain. Of course we will be apprehensive.

Yet, the anticipation should excited us. To find ourselves living life in its fulness. To reach for the wonder of our fulfilled humanity.

Some of us grew up thinking that God was wanting us in surgery to spoil our fun, the confine our living. Such an impression of God will heighten our apprehension.

A healthy view of a loving God changes this. God wants what is best for us. When we realise that God’s call to denial and cross carrying is actually to lead us to full humanity, not handicap us, then we will be more ready.

It might be forgiveness. Holding bitterness towards someone who has hurt us is a sure way to have our humanity robbed from us. The hurt they caused is added to with those twisted feelings of revenge churning within us. 

We might have a right for justice. Yet, something happening to another is rarely likely to heal the scars within us. God’s gift to such a pain of soul is to forgive. To let go. Then we can start again without that awful feeling deep down within us.

We will be apprehensive to forgive. We will be vulnerable, and it will almost always be a painful act, but God calls us to see the potential of rebirth and anticipate a better life when we come out of God’s theatre of soul surgery.


SURMISING THE DUP DRAMA...

Edwin Poots

Allow me to use a Surmise to unpack all this DUP drama!

In November 2014 the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship had Mike Nesbitt, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, speak at Clonard Monastery. That night, just off the Falls Road, an audience with a majority of Nationalists and Republicans told Mike that the Union was safe in their lifetimes and that he should stop worrying about borders and get on with issues like health and education. Mental health was particularly high on the agenda.

Less than seven years later and that Union is far from safe. It is astounding to realise that Nationalists and Republicans have done very little for that to cause the turn around. Unionism, mainly the DUP have unraveled their most precious Union almost single handedly.

RHI, Bexit, snuggling up to Theresa May and being betrayed, believing promises of Boris Johnston and getting shafted, a goods border in the Irish Sea and the protocol confusion with it. It’s not been a good few years for the DUP.

Their support for Brexit becomes more and more unfathomable with every passing day. Northern Irish voters had a clear majority that wanted to Remain. That the DUP put voters in England and Wales above their own. That has not go down well. There are very many unionists with a small u, particularly the younger age group, who see themselves as Europeans with a capital E. I wonder what the percentage increase in Protestants with Irish passports!

Ireland was nicely settled and compromised in the EU. North and South flowed back and forward in a way that the border was a lot less of a barrier. In many ways Ireland was pragmatically united while Northern Ireland was still part of the UK. That had become almost palatable to those talking to Mike Nesbitt at Clonard. 

Brexit unraveled all of that. Borders were important again. Pragmatisim was jettisoned for old idealisms. Like the Nationalistic English, who seemed to see Britain as some Empire who still ruled the waves, the DUP thought we could free themselves again from a Rome Rule Republic and all its poverty. Except that there was no longer an Empire and The Republic Of Ireland was no longer Catholic or a developing country. Unionists had been enjoying Dublin and elsewhere across the 26 counties for thirty years. Unionists with a small u were no longer frightened of Ireland and were a whole lot angry with English nationalism.

As Alliance and even the SDLP started stealing small u Unionist votes the DUP have not responded. Getting unceremoniously rid of Arlene Foster and electing Edwin Poots as leader seemed like a return to an even older and tighter hardline. Then when we thought he might play hard ball with Sinn Fein over the Irish Language they seemed to compromise. 

When they do, those we thought were the softer line DUP revolt and oust Poots who hadn’t even got his seat warm. Now it looks like Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will be leader of a party that it was thought he might resign from in a week or two’s time. You couldn’t make it up.

And the Union cracks a little bit more as former Unionist voters and new voters are exasperated. What next? Donaldson going harder than Poots? Chat that he would bring down the institutions at Stormont as Sinn Fein did in 2017 might be the next bad move. An election just now might well get their hardline voters behind them but if they have haemorrhaged even more of the middle ground they might return with fewer seats than Sinn Fein. 

They need to also take seriously that Alliance and the SDLP have uncovered good politicians and even the Ulster Unionists look a little stronger under Doug Beattie and a stand out performance by Robin Swann through Covid-19, no matter what Van Morrison and his mate Junior suggest!

Maybe after all the coming and going and drama of the past month we should return to the leader before it all went mad. Arlene Foster’s Tweet during the 12 hours of Edwin Poots meteoric rise and fall that she hoped everyone was having a lovely day was acerbically hilarious. 

More poignant and prophetic are some of Foster’s final words in the Chamber when she resigned as First Minister, “We can poke each other in the eye and have a competition of ‘my identity is better than yours’ but it is only by respecting each other’s identity that we will move forward.”

That would be a sensible, pragmatic lead to take, whoever turns out the leader of a party that seems very much bullyingly led by its followers and voters than its leader. 

Mind you when God gave out pragmatism, the DUP seemed to think he said paganism and asked for absolutely none! In the same handing out instead of self reflect they thought God said genuflect and they were having none of that. 

Let us of course not point fingers without fingers pointing back. All have fallen short and continue too. We all need grace filled pragmatism and Holy Spirit searching for self critique. The DUP's current drama is without doubt making a rocky local government even more rocky but everyone of us in Northern Ireland need to move away from century old idealism and ask how our Britishness and Irishness makes sense NOW and how the two can come together to make common ground for common good.


EDWIN POOTS AND THE BIBLE

Edwin Poots

The new leader of the DUP, Edwin Poots has written some headlines across Northern Irish politics in recent weeks.

One of the big talking points has been his views on the age of the earth. Edwin is from a group that thinks you can measure the age of planet earth by Biblical genealogies. 

It is an interesting idea. If you take that approach then you can make the Bible say that. The vast majority of Christian Theological Colleges would not hold such a hermeneutic. 

It might make Edwin Poots a little out of kilter with robust theological studies but he has the right to hold whatever view of our origins he gets from his way of reading Scripture.

Personally, I have never been too worried about the beginnings of things. God was there, I believe, from my reading of the Bible. The technique and science isn’t spelled out. 

I often think if a car is driving at me at 90 miles per hour, just fifty yards away, that I am not going to stop and ask, Vauxhall? I wonder if was built in Ellesmere Port? What model is it? I wonder where the rubber for the tires came from? I think I’ll deal with now and get out of its road!

There is lots of the Bible that deals with now. How we live now. How we live in particular circumstances now. 

Which has me surmising. What if Edwin Poots’ faith was not caricatured by what he believes about the age of the earth but about his passionate love for his enemies.

I could quote Luke 6:27-28, as I often do about this - “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” But actually any kind of understanding of the Gospel of Jesus, no matter your hermeneutics leaves no question that loving enemies is what they entire thing is all about.

Back in those Genesis beginnings humanity makes enmity with God. Humanity breaks the relationship. BUT… God loves. God moves. God acts. Grace it is called. Without anything worthy of God’s love, God loves his enemies. 

Indeed to bring justice God stands in for the crimes of the ones he loves and forgives. As Philippians 2 puts it so poetically: - “he humbled himself, by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross”

Jesus then asks us to follow him. In his teaching on our following he was never distracted by the age of the planet. He was always so obsessed by a new Kingdom on earth like heaven where we would love God, neighbour and enemies and love to a sacrificial level.

It is hard to miss this radical Gospel however you read the Bible. So… though Edwin Poots has every right to have different notions of the earth’s age I find it sad that it is not all over the press and radio and TV that the man is mad because he loves his enemies, those who have ill treated him. That would be something. 


DISCIPLESHIP - LIKE GOLF RULES

Bunker

My body shuddered. My mouth was agape. My eyes like saucers. I was shocked.

I was watching the golf on TV. It is the USPGA this weekend, from Kiawah Island in South Carolina. For some reason there is a local rule that allows players to ground their club in sand. 

Since I started playing golf as a six year old it has been drummed into me by my father that you cannot touch the sand in the bunker. That means you cannot ground your sand wedge behind the ball. You cannot touch the sand in any way. In fact there is a mythical old tricks of dropping 50p in the bunker. When your opponent picked it up you could claim penalty shots against them!

So, I am watching the now second Major of the year and this guy takes two practice swings in the bunker, lifting sand with each swing. It was like my inbuilt mother board exploded, not able to compute what I was watching. It was like my body gave a little jump.

Apparently it is unique to the Kiawah Island course. Some sandy areas are not defined as bunkers, therefore not hazards, therefore you can build sand castles if you like!

It took me by surprised, how shaken I was. I almost didn’t breathe until the commentator explained.

So, I thought, what would be more crucial things for me to shudder at? My life had obviously been so wired to the rules of golf, even though I haven’t played it for some twenty years, to set off alarm bells when someone did something outside those rules. The ways of golf were so deeply ingrained. 

Christian Discipleship is about a way of life being deeply ingrained. My mind scanned the pages of the Scriptures and settled at Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of God dwell in you richly…” Like those rules of golf indwelling, long after I needed them, the reaction I had needs to be replicated in my spiritual life.

When I see in the world, or maybe more crucially in myself injustice, racism, sectarianism, greed, selfishness, abuse of power, arrogance… my body needs that shudder, that mouth wide open, those eyes wide open. 

May it be so. 


BEWARE OF THE THEOLOGIST

Racism-discrimination-1

Beware of the theologist

Like the racist

He only sees one colour of truth

Dismisses difference as evil and lies

Treats others like trash

And belittles as he walks away.

 

The theologist knows exactly

He interprets Scripture perfectly

He is certain of what God is doing

God is only doing it through him

And those like him

Even the slightest deviation from the theologist's infallibility

Will negate everything you believe

And question if you are saved at all

The theologist makes those judgements

He avoids relationships and distances himself

And he is always a he. 

 

Beware of the Theologist

Like the sectarian 

He will exclude you from his gatherings

He will bully you

He will dehumanise you

He will put a BUT in everything he says about you

And make you feel as small and wrong and unloved as he can.

 

Beware of the Theologist

And…

Beware of the Theologist within my own soul.

 

Reading Eugene Peterson's biography A Burning In My Bones expressed my experience of theological sectarianism. Eugene detested it. Even in the same denomination he knew theological sectarianism.

I have been hurt by it, shunned by it, damaged by it and live in the omnipresent expectation of being under its dark opinion.

So with Jesus " I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.