Dornan 2


(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 27, 2022)


How well did our boy Jamie Dornan do in the recent TV drama The Tourist. I love it when he can do his own accent. A Belfast man in the outback of Australia. Amongst a few unbelievable things the biggest had to be that a Belfast man can go missing. Surely if they asked any other Irish person in the whole of Australia they would have ended up being Elliott Stanley’s cousin or someone he threw stones at as a wee lad. I mean everyone knows everyone in this wee place.


I do not want to play down the trauma of losing all of your memory but if you have done something very bad in your past it might be a good get out clause. A new start. I mean for a good lot of The Tourist Jamie was an affable Belfast man that you’d be happy to have a coffee with… unless the seat had a bomb under it!


Our past. How we remember it. How we see it. 


Pope Francis, who I am delighted to say has sent a message for next week’s 4 Corners Festival, wrote about how we deal with the past in his 2020 book Let Us Dream. His co-writer Austen Ivereigh will unpack that at St. Annes Cathedral on Sunday night.


I was drawn to a few of his thoughts about how to deal with the past. Pope Francis warned against the “reducing a person’s history to the wrong that they did.” Is that what we do with Elliott in The Tourist. Is that what we do across our society. 


We see Jesus NOT doing this with the social outcast Zaccheus, that wee tax collector up a tree in Jericho. Jesus doesn’t reduce Zaccheus to his past but gives him a new start.  

Pope Francis also writes that we should  “look at the past critically but with empathy.”

Again Jesus does with Zaccheus. Jesus empathy invites himself for lunch with the outcast. He doesn’t forget his past, Zaacheus gives back 4 times what he has stolen… but with empathy, Jesus concentrates on a better future. 

Jesus is all about new starts. Almost like wiping the memory. Imagine if Northern Ireland woke up this morning and like Jamie Dornan’s character Elliott Stanley had lost all our memories. How would that change the the day?


Ailing graduation


(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 20, 2022.)


When former South African President FW De Klerk died late last year I remembered a lesson he taught us about Peacemaking. Speaking to a group of my Queens University Presbyterian Chaplaincy students back in 2002 he told us that before we did any work of reconciliation that we needed to search our own motives right down to the very marrow. 

Deep deep search. It reminded me of Psalm 139. 


Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.


See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.


FW’s advice came back to me this week as I tried to come to terms with the tragic death of Aisling Murphy. 

As a pastor the news of Ashling’s murder hit me deep in the heart. How do parents deal with that news. That loss. That heartache. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a Comforter and we have been praying in Fitzroy that Aisling’s family and friends would know that comfort.

But something more is rising out of Aisling’s needless murder. Men’s attitudes toward women. The fear that women feel. Aisling just went for a run BUT as a woman she would  always have been looking cautiously  ahead and fearing what might be behind her. 

I have two daughters almost the same age and this fear that women live with needs to change. We need societal turnaround in how men respect and act towards women.

I am back to FW De Klerk. In these days as the island grieves Aisling, men need to search themselves down to the very marrow. What do we think about a women’s place in society? Or in the Church? How do we treat women? Do we see women as equals? How do we look at women? How do women see us looking at them. We need to search ourselves… deep.

FW De Klerk’s second piece of advice… once you’ve searched to the marrow. Search yourself again. In case you have missed something.

We don’t need to lose any more young women in the prime of their lives. The answer lies with men. And we need to start now. First we have to search ourselves right down to the marrow… and then… search again.



(This was my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 6th 2022...)

I have carried a quotation around with me for some years. It seems a good one for new year.

Speaking at Queens University, maybe 20 years ago, Bob Geldof told us that he got lots of mail during the year of Live Aid. Most he discarded but one note he put above his desk. It was a quote by WH Murray a mountaineer.

Murray wrote “at the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt could have come their way. 

The quote made sense to Geldof whose initial phone call to Midge Ure about doing a charity single ended up with twenty aeroplanes, lined up on a runway, full of aid to relieve those dying of famine in East Africa.

I love the quote. It encourages us to commit to something positive and that if we do providence, that I might call God’s unseen mysterious input, opens up all kinds of pragmatic blessings that causes us to end up doing imaginary more than we first dreamed.

I believe in the quote too. At the end of this month we will celebrate the 10th Four Corners Festival in Belfast. It started one afternoon in Fr Martin Magill’s Presbytery House in Lenadoon. Chatting about the parts of Belfast that we didn’t know because of the apartheid nature of north, south, east or west he and I thought we’d start a festival to get people moving around the city and hopefully get Jesus contributing to bringing Belfast together.

It was kind of mad. None of us have a Phd in running festivals. Indeed as Martin reminds me, we don’t have Phds in anything 

BUT… we committed… and… gathering a few like-spirited friends around us, we are looking forward to a 10th  Festival that will include boxer names like Carl Frampton, pianist Ruth McGinley and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

We could never have believed in 10th Anniversaries back in 2012. Support has come in so many ways and WH Murray’s quote seems to makes sense of. Commit and providence, or God, moves.

And so, still in the first week of January, let us all commit to something in our lives, neighbourhood, churches, parliaments… Maybe providence will move too and we’ll be utterly amazed at where our commitment goes… It’s better than a half baked resolution!



(this was my Thought For The Day on Good Morning Ulster on September 15, 2021... dedicated to our Good Samaritans - Steven Auld, Lesley Emerson, David Fleming, Colin Goodman, Team Hinds and a coupe of strangers)


Sunday afternoon was no classic for the Stockmans and yet ended up what might against the odds be a lifetime family memory.

My daughter Jasmine was taking some friends for lunch and broke down on the Saintfield Road. Between Beechill Road and Cairnshill Road. Right at the lights. Lovely spot to spend a few hours.

We have breakdown cover. They’ll sort it. Phoned. Be there at 2.20. No worries. 3 o’clock and we are still enjoying the traffic, still no help. Phone again. You have been recovered they said. You are on your way to Dundalk they said. Not us. Still on Saintfield Road. 

Would you believe that two Kia Rios had gear box trouble. less than a mile apart in the same half hour. Such a freak of coincidence meant that confusion broke out in breakdown services and the two cars became one and somehow we were forgotten! .

In such situations you find out who your Good Samaritans are. A Presbyterian colleague and his wife wound down their window to wave and cheer… and drive on. Must have thought that that the busy intersection was our favourite picnic spot.

But out of the hundreds and hundreds of cars there were indeed a few Good Samaritans. A dear friend brought coffee and a Baptist pastor I hardly knew left his phone number and then brought back a food parcel. A couple of others who we knew and 2 random strangers stopped as well.

None of them could fix a gear box BUT just knowing we were seen was enough to warm our hearts and keep us going. 

In the Bible there is a woman called Hagar who was like an invisible woman heading out into the dessert to escape her situation. She becomes the first person in Scripture to be visited by an angel. After God blessed Hagar she gave the place the name that means 

 “You are the God who sees me,”

Being seen. On Sunday I realised how important that is. Knowing who it is that sees me makes a difference. And when we see other people we can make a difference too. Like those kind few on Sunday afternoon who made what could have been a miserable afternoon bearable. Thank you so much.


Leona 2

(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster on September 8th 2021...) 


Even with no Premier League it was a great sporting weekend. Watching on Facebook streaming on a phone outside church with his family as my friend Stephen Orr won the Irish Senior Masters 800m was the highlight.

BUT I was gripped with the Solheim Cup, Europe’s women beating the USA on US soil. Leona Maguire from Cavan the first Irish woman ever to play in the Solheim, the superstar with 4 and a 1/2 points. 

There was a shot on Sunday afternoon that reminded me of my toughest golf lesson. A life lesson in fact. 

It was the 9th hole in the afternoon fourballs. USA’s Megan Khang was off the back of the green in semi rough. Her European opponents were on the green and felt the hole was won. 

Khang’s chip needed to be delicate. It wasn’t. It was far too hard BUT it was on line, hit the pin bounced out of the hole and then back in again. 

There are many difficult things about golf. I declare this the hardest. Reacting to the surprise of your opponent’s luck. The European players moved from confidence to oh no we might miss these putts. They did.

It happened to me as a teenager… 16th at Ballymena… 1978. I had been 3 down in an East Antrim League match and had won two in a row. I hit my approach to the then par 3 16th to 4 feet. My opponent was forty yards wide of the green. Oh yes. He pitched up short of the green. Oh yes. His next effort was too hard but hit the flag half way up and dropped in. Otto! Yes, shell shocked I missed the 4 footer and halved the hole that I was sure I’d won.

Always be ready for what your opponent will do. Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared for it and you still might sink that putt.

Jesus wasn’t talking golf when he highlighted the foolishness of the 5 virgins who came to the wedding unprepared for surprising long wait. Not enough oil for their lamps. Left to get some more. Locked out! 

Today might throw us all kinds of surprises that will hit head, heart and soul. We need to be prepared. It is hard to deal with the shock if we are not. 

I won the 17th by the way. Half match! 


Stocki BBC

(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Good Morning Ulster on April 22nd 2021)


Gary Neville played for Manchester United. I support City. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

This week though I declare Gary Neville a hero. On Sunday afternoon news broke of A European Super League for football. The news set off what was described a Nuclear War in the sport. A mere 48 hours later the 6 English teams withdrew from the said League.

This was a sensational turn around. Business greed usually backs down to no one. 

Gary Neville’s contribution has been seismic. Maybe two hours after news of the Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was incredibly powerful. Emotional. Angry. Articulate.

Neville set in motion an impetus that was picked up by everyone who loves the beautiful game. It set a tone and like a depth charge hurled ripples that became tidal waves crashing against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

Greed on an epic scale is not confined to the Football Super League – it’s all around us squeezing the last drop of profit no matter the consequences.

On the same  fans were protesting the Super League songwriters were challenging the greed of big music streaming multi national corporations who give very little to the artist whose songs they stream. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.”. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a very long time. The Old Testament prophets raged against those in big houses who trampled roughshod over the poor. Sadly the gap has widened during the pandemic.

The end of the Super League in days is a huge victory for the ordinary football fan. May it be a warning of business greed and maybe a model of how a united force of ordinary people can change the world. Thank you Gary Neville.



(this was my Thought For The Day on GMU, BBC Radio Ulster, on April 15, 2021)


On Monday we walked around the Divis and Black Mountain Ridge Trail. 10,000 of my daily step count sorted. 

The sun and the sky were making for great views. The Mournes down one way and the lough out towards Scotland on the other. Belfast down below. We spent time seeking out places we knew. 

I remembered being at Stormont one afternoon and standing just outside the door, similarly gazing over the city. 

I remember thinking that as the leader of Fitzroy, this was my task. To look out over the entire congregation, know the depths of the stories going on across the congregation and then be in a place of vision as to what is best for the congregation as a whole. 

I was aware that some of the congregation would know a few people and hear stories about some others BUT I was actually paid to have a handle on the entire panorama.

I know that it is just a symbol but in the Bible you often find God on mountains and hills. 

The Old Testament people of God looked to the hills where their help came from, not the hills but the God they believed lived on the top of them. The 10 commandments, that vision of how to live across an entire community, were received up a mountain and when Jesus was giving his vision of how the world could live in peace and justice, he did it in the Sermon on the Mount. 

I began to think that this is what all great leaders need. A view of the entire place. Now, scattered across the city are little enclaves. In those are the community leaders, caught up in the horizontal. They are important. Vital. They lead their corners.

And of course I only look after Fitzroy. 

Our MLAs and Stormont Executive look after us all, not just Belfast but across Northern Ireland. It is their role to catch a good view of the entire community, know the eccentricities and brokenness of them… every unique little place… and then work a vision for ALL, seeking common ground for common goodness. 

Join me in praying for clarity of vision in their panoramas…


Cross in crowds

Did you hear the one about the minister who mistook a pub for a sermon illustration?!

Almost 30 years ago, I was leaving my Dublin office with my mate Chris. As we were heading out for lunch, Paddy who did the door for the Keep Fit Class that hired the hall beside the office said, “Out into The Flowing Tide lads”. 

Goodness we thought, Paddy has got all philosophical. What a great image of O’Connell street just yards away… a flowing tide. 

We laughed over lunch but I decided I could put Paddy’s phrase, Into the Flowing Tide into a poem. Chris conjured a song.

We were comparing notes of said poem and song in the back of a car about a week later. Brian who was driving looked back and said:


- That’s the pub across the road from your office. 

- What is?

- The Flowing Tide!

- What?

- It’s the pub on Lower Abbey Street?


We burst out laughing. Paddy wasn’t so philosophical after all! And yet, Chris’s song got written and my poem. I took the Flowing Tide image and set it in Holy Week.

Last week Christians all over the world remembered the death of Jesus. I realised as I wrote my poem that Jesus died out there in the flowing tide of the city among thieves and gamblers and soldiers and scoffers.

The truth is that it these were Jesus people. He talked a lot to the religious people about it being the sick who needed a doctor. Jesus love was always intended to reach way far beyond the church walls.

A couple of years ago I saw a sand sculpture of Jesus on a cross on a Spanish beach. The sand artist had added luminous eyes. 

As I marvelled at the art I couldn’t help but be drawn to those eyes. It didn’t seem that anything or anyone could be out of their reach.

And so this week, the week after Holy Week, no one in the flowing tide of humanity is beyond Jesus loving gaze…


Santa List

(my Thought For The Day on December 18, 2020...)


It was the Sunday before Christmas. I was about 7 years old. It was the afternoon. We had been up to Ballymena Cemetery to visit my Granda Kernohan’s grave.

I must have been a naughty boy… nothing new there… but Granny was angry. When we returned to her house she wrote a note to Santa to tell him what a bad little boy Steve had been. I watched it go up the chimney and she told me that she saw Santa with it, sailing over the Town Hall. My Christmas was done. I am pretty sure it didn’t calm me down.

I’ve always had an issue with Santa, checking whether we have been naughty and nice, ever since.

It is the way of the world. The good and well behaved. The passers of society’s tests. They are in. The naughty are off everybody’s lists.

If we take ourselves out of the Santa Christmas for a moment and get our heads into the Jesus Christmas instead, there is a whole other kind of attitude going on.

When Jesus was born, he threw the Santa naughty or nice test out of the reindeer flying sky and gave us another way to see each other.

In this nativity scene we see the most unlikely getting on Jesus’s list. I mean Mary and Jospeh to start with. Jesus was God coming to earth. He is known in hymns as King Of Kings and Lord Of Lords. He could set a few tests. Instead he arrives in humility, born of an ordinary teenage girl and is laid down in animal straw.

And around him shepherds and eastern stargazers. These weren’t the religiously qualified or the Israel’s high society. Indeed the PhD’s and royalty tried to kill him. It was the dirty shepherds and foreign mystics who got invited in. 

They aren’t invited by some behavioural code or societal qualification. No… Santa is very much about how good you are… My 7 year old self suffered from that… Jesus is all about grace… unmerited favour… loved as you are… as my 17 year old self discovered and my 59 year old self will still treasure on Christmas Day. I prefer Jesus to Santa every single day!



(my Thought For the Day on BBC Radio Ulster - December 11, 2020...)


What a week in the news - December 2020. As I watch and listen I am pretty convinced that my grandchildren will have this on their A Level History syllabus. For us it was 19th century Irish history. For others 20th century American history BUT for our Grandchildren one month might be enough for the entire course.

A world pandemic with lockdowns, Christmas bubbles and miracle vaccines,  a race towards the cliff edge on a Brexit deal and an American President who won’t give way to the next American President. Goodness me but what the Christmas no 1 is seems of little consequence!

These are surreal and disconcerting times.

But for the preacher it is Advent. I cannot help think that Mary was caught up in surreal and disconcerting times too. And actually times that would be on Theological College syllabuses for millennia.

Yes, if we are reeling then so was Mary. After a visit from an angel, understandably so. She is pregnant but not married. She has to live with the implications of all that the neighbours and elders in the synagogue might think and say.

In disconcerting and surreal times it is good to have someone to breathe in and breathe out with.

Mary takes off and visits her cousin Elizabeth. Someone who sees her. Someone who will take her in and allow her to find space to come to terms with the big ask of God. Someone to listen to her. Someone who will be there for her without judgement. Someone who understands.

If ever there was a Christmas full of people who need an Elizabeth then it is this one. Thought For The Days are often dismissed as just nice messages about being nice. Well this particular year being nice could change someone’s world. Just a nice act like sending a text or message or phone call or card. 2020 has been disconcerting and surreal for us all. Everyone needs an Elizabeth and we all need to be an Elizabeth to someone.